MILLINOCKET, Maine — Town leaders are proceeding with a lawsuit against Gov. Paul LePage and the state over $216,000 in education funds LePage denied the town, officials said Wednesday.
Town Council Chairman John Davis sent Town Manager Eugene Conlogue a letter formally authorizing the lawsuit last week that Conlogue passed to the attorney representing the town in the matter, Conlogue said.
It has not been a matter undertaken lightly, Conlogue said.
“The town does not want to be suing the state of Maine. We are doing this with great reluctance,” Conlogue said. “That said, it appears we are not going to get the funding the town is legally owed but for this action.”
LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett’s only comment Wednesday was, “The administration is aware.” In previous statements, she said LePage expressed indifference to a lawsuit threat.
The fight began when LePage claimed that town leaders broke their pledge to pay $50,000 annually toward the estimated $250,000 annual cost of the maintenance and operation of the Dolby landfill in East Millinocket used by the region’s two paper mills. He issued $504,000 on March 7 instead of the $720,000 the town is owed in Sudden and Severe Impact funds.
As part of the $250,000 deal that state officials were engineering, East Millinocket pledged another $50,000 in cash and services to complement the $150,000 the state would have offered.
Sudden and Severe Impact funds are given by the state to municipalities to cushion against steep tax losses — in the towns’ case, the closure of their paper mills. The LePage-engineered sale of both mills to a New Hampshire investor was crucial to the East Millinocket mill’s restart last October, restoring more than 200 jobs.
Millinocket officials angrily denied LePage’s claim. Saying LePage had connected unrelated issues and acted illegally, town leaders produced a string of correspondence that showed they never agreed to more than one $50,000 payment.
The town government, which effectively controls education spending with schools being run by the Millinocket School Committee and local Education Department, will use the town’s undesignated surplus to cover for the missing $216,000, Conlogue said.