EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — State compensation for the sudden and severe loss of value in the Main Street paper mill and huge town and school budget cuts will leave the owners of $50,000 homes paying $4 less in town property taxes under a new mill rate set this week, officials said Friday.
With Selectman Lawrence MacKenzie absent, the Board of Selectmen voted 4-0 earlier this week to set a new mill rate of 23.33 mills. Last year’s was 23.4. Town workers mailed property tax bills this week, board Chairman Mark Scally said.
The new mill rate, Scally said, comes at the end of what was for town leaders a considerable gamble in April: That a new owner of the paper mill then unknown to them would accept a $30 million valuation on the property, down from the $96 million previous mill owner Brookfield Asset Management had once agreed to.
The new owner, which turned out to be Cate Street Capital of Portsmouth, N.H., might have pressed for a lower valuation, but accepted the devaluation Brookfield sought months before Cate Street’s final sale agreement occurred on Wednesday. Brookfield closed the mill in April, laying off 415 workers; Cate Street will reopen it with 215 by Oct. 10.
“We thought we would go with what we thought was decent and fair,” Scally said Friday of the $30 million valuation.
Town leaders endured one of the most agonizing budget processes in the town’s history this spring, making a total of almost $1.2 million in budget cuts — including $497,490 in school budget money. As part of the budget, several town workers were laid off or had hours reduced. The town office and town transfer station hours were reduced as well.
Selectmen banked on receiving state money, thanks to laws cushioning municipalities from sudden and severe losses of revenue caused by things such as mill closures, and received enough to make further cuts unnecessary.
“It shows that the scalpel did not cut so deeply. We kept things going with the cuts we got,” Scally said. “We have got reduced services … The bright side is, hey they [taxes] did not go up. They went up rather dramatically last year.
“I think what it shows is that we showed due diligence in how we cut. We didn’t cut more than we had to,” he added.