MILLINOCKET, Maine — East Millinocket and Millinocket town leaders will meet behind closed doors Tuesday to discuss Meriturn Partners’ attempt to secure property tax breaks from the towns as it seeks to buy two Katahdin region paper mills for $1.
Millinocket Town Councilor Michael Madore and Mark Scally, chairman of the East Millinocket Board of Selectmen, said they were pleased at how well the two towns’ leaders were working together through very difficult and complex negotiations.
“The tenor of the meetings shows a lot of unity and solidarity amongst the two boards,” Madore said Sunday. “The negotiations are going slower than I thought. I think both sides are being cautious — well, I think they [Meriturn] are looking to see who is going to blink first. I don’t blame Meriturn at all. They are looking for their best deal. We are looking to see that the deal is equitable for Meriturn and the towns.
“It would be very detrimental to everybody, including Meriturn, if the two towns were not in agreement,” he added. “No matter how this turns out, 50 percent of these people are not going to like this decision [whatever decision the town leaders arrive at]. You have to figure out what’s best for the whole, not individual sides, and that’s where it gets very dicey.”
All sides of the mill revitalization efforts have an interest in working together, Scally said.
“The thing is, we’re all in this together, and that includes Meriturn. We need to make this work, and let’s do what we can to make this work,” Scally said.
Meriturn signed a letter of intent to purchase the paper mills in East Millinocket and Millinocket from Brookfield Asset Management of Toronto by April 29 provided several conditions were met, including reaching a labor agreement.
If the deal collapses, Brookfield has said it would close the East Millinocket mill on April 22, eliminating about 450 jobs. Restarting the Millinocket mill, which closed in 2008, reportedly would create about 120 to 150 jobs.
Under Meriturn’s first proposition to get an estimated $48 million in tax breaks over 10 years from both towns, the East Millinocket mill’s tax bill would decline from $2.1 million to about $46,800 in annual payments to the town starting in the 2011-12 fiscal year, which begins July 1. Millinocket would see a decline from $2.6 million to about $50,000, Millinocket Town Manager Eugene Conlogue has said.
The towns have since made a counteroffer to Meriturn, but officials have declined to provide details.
Tuesday’s meeting comes after a 1½-hour meeting Thursday in the basement banquet area of the East Millinocket town office building that the Millinocket Town Council and East Millinocket Board of Selectmen attended.
The issues involved call for great sacrifices, but also great rewards, especially the jobs involved.
“Everybody wants them,” Madore said, “but what are you going to go ahead and do with those jobs or what you have to give up for them is the crux of the thing. Do you bankrupt the town? Does everybody else take a back seat? I would love to see this mill reopen as long as I am not doing it on the backs of everybody else.”