MILLINOCKET, Maine — Town leaders will meet in a week to decide whether to sue Gov. Paul LePage and state government for $216,000 in disputed state funds, Town Manager Eugene Conlogue said Thursday.
The Town Council will meet on April 26 to discuss the matter. With Councilor John Raymond absent and Chairman John Davis and Councilor Bryant Davis — no relation — opposed, councilors voted 4-2 on April 12 to approve filing a legal complaint against the state. They will review the matter again on April 26 “to be sure that everyone is still on board,” Conlogue said.
“We are just trying to be as cautious as we can,” Conlogue said Thursday. “We really don’t want to be going to court. We just want what the town is owed legally.”
Conlogue said he believes that LePage is discriminating against Millinocket with his actions.
“We won’t do anything until the next council meeting on Thursday. We need to work on the issue,” Conlogue said.
LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett did not immediately return requests for comment on Thursday.
The dispute between LePage and town leaders centers on LePage’s issuing $504,000 in Sudden and Severe Impact funds to Millinocket on March 7 instead of the $720,000 the town is owed. LePage claimed that Millinocket officials would have received more but they broke their pledge to pay $50,000 annually toward the operation of the East Millinocket-based Dolby landfill.
Town officials angrily denied LePage’s claim and produced a string of correspondence that showed they never agreed to more than one $50,000 payment. East Millinocket received its first monthly Sudden and Severe Impact payment late last month. More recently, Rep. Herb Clark, D-Millinocket, accused LePage of blackmailing the town and hurting town schools to get more money from town coffers to run the landfill. Almost all of the $720,000 would be for school funding.
Originally state officials said they sought to allocate $150,000 to landfill operations annually, with East Millinocket and Millinocket contributing $50,000 each in cash or in-kind services annually. The state’s taking ownership of Dolby was crucial to Cate Street Capital’s purchase last fall of the East Millinocket and Millinocket paper mills, which restored about 216 jobs to the region.
On March 22, the council twice voted 6-1 to table until April 12 orders to sue the state for the full $720,000 and to rescind a $50,000 one-time payment at the center of its dispute with the governor. Councilors again tabled the order to rescind the $50,000 payment when they met on April 12.
The $504,000 check LePage had cut for the town early last month remains locked in the town’s safe, Conlogue said.
State bills to allow Millinocket permission to sue the state and to allocate about $250,000 annually to run the landfill are pending. One of the landfill bill’s co-sponsors, Rep. Herb Clark, D-Millinocket, did not return telephone messages left Thursday.
Another co-sponsor, Sen. Doug Thomas, R-Ripley, said he didn’t see much hope of Millinocket and LePage settling their differences without going to court.
“I have tried everything I can think of,” he said Thursday.
Bennett has said that the governor’s top goal has been to save taxpayers as much money as possible and toward that end, state officials are examining several options for Dolby. State officials led prospective landfill buyers through the East Millinocket-based landfill on March 28.
Follow BDN writer Nick Sambides Jr. on Twitter at @NickSam2BDN.