Millinocket manager suggests LePage may be holding back on state funds

Millinocket Town Manager Eugene Conlogue is shown at a Town Council meeting in 2010.
Nick Sambides | BDN
Millinocket Town Manager Eugene Conlogue is shown at a Town Council meeting in 2010.
Posted Jan. 26, 2012, at 7:34 p.m.

MILLINOCKET, Maine — Town Manager Eugene Conlogue is wondering whether Gov. Paul LePage is having state officials withhold about $720,000 in state aid to force Millinocket and East Millinocket to do more for the Dolby Landfill, he said Thursday.

Conlogue told councilors during a meeting Thursday and said in a memo to the area’s state representatives on Jan. 18 that he had continued “to hear rumors that the governor may be embargoing these funds.”

State officials have said that at least $50,000 in Sudden and Severe Impact funds are “in the pipeline” and headed to Millinocket but that the order to release an additional $720,000 from the program “is still on the governor’s desk,” Conlogue said.

Sudden and Severe Impact funds become available when a community suffers a significant loss in taxable value. Over the past year, Millinocket has lost more than $96 million in taxable value from its paper mill, Conlogue has said.

The last $20 million drop in taxable value occurred as the result of negotiations on the sale of the mill to Cate Street Capital in August.

In a move seen as critical to the eventual sale of the East Millinocket and Millinocket paper mills to New Hampshire-based Cate Street, the Legislature agreed, with many misgivings, to take ownership of the Dolby Landfill last year. State officials said no buyer would touch the mills so long as the landfill, and the huge potential liability it represented, was part of the deal.

But the state and towns have balked at operating the landfill, fearing its costs. The towns’ leaders also fear that a lack of expertise and equipment would leave them ill-prepared to manage the landfill.

Millinocket offered the state a $50,000 one-time payment to help it operate the landfill. East Millinocket also made an offer but that town’s officials haven’t disclosed it.

State officials have not responded to either town’s offers, and state Rep. Herbert Clark, D-Millinocket, has proposed a bill that would make state government responsible for landfill operations.

“The governor continues to examine and gather information on the costs associated with the landfill,” LePage’s spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett, said Thursday evening. “Additionally, he’s looking at the history and valuation of the mills to gain a better understanding of how the towns have handled this issue.”

Clark, Conlogue and state Sen. Douglas Thomas, R-Ripley, are among those who hope to meet with LePage to discuss the apparent logjam. No meeting date has been set. Conlogue said he hoped the $720,000 would be released soon.

“These funds are desperately needed to pay our bills,” Conlogue said in an email to Clark and Thomas.

The council and Millinocket School Committee have been battling over a $158,000 portion of the Sudden and Severe Impact funds that school board members believe the school system should get.

Council members maintain, however, that they have funded the School Department’s requested budget fully and that the schools would not be entitled to anything beyond that.

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