May 23, 2018
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State seeks dismissal of Millinocket lawsuit over $216K in school money

Gabor Degre | BDN
Gabor Degre | BDN
Gov. Paul LePage in Rockland in March 2012.
By Nick Sambides Jr., BDN Staff

MILLINOCKET, Maine — The town’s attorney will respond shortly to a motion seeking the dismissal of Millinocket’s lawsuit against the state over $216,000 in education funding Gov. Paul LePage has withheld from the town.

In a motion filed July 5 at Kennebec County Superior Court, Maine Attorney General William Schneider and Deputy Attorney General Paul Stern argued that Millinocket’s first attempt at getting a judge to order the LePage administration to issue the money is governed by the Maine Administrative Procedures Act. Under the provisions of that law, Stern argued, the town’s application was late.

“The court, therefore, should dismiss the town’s complaint for lack of jurisdiction,” Stern wrote in the seven-page motion.

“The town shall file a response shortly,” Town Manager Eugene Conlogue said Tuesday. He declined to comment further, citing the matter as pending litigation.

After threatening to for several months, the Town Council agreed in mid-June to proceed with its lawsuit, saying LePage illegally withheld funding that, under state law, Millinocket is owed in Sudden and Severe Impact funds for the severe devaluation of the Katahdin Avenue paper mill, at one time the town’s biggest taxpayer.

Under Maine administrative law, Stern argued in response, a civil court petition for review of an administrative decision would have had to be filed within about 30 days of LePage’s decision to allocate only about $504,000 of $720,000 the town was owed under the Sudden and Severe Impact laws. The laws shield municipalities against drastic and immediate losses to their tax bases.

LePage’s decision occurred on March 7, Stern argued. The town, through a public statement condemning LePage for his actions, voiced its opposition to the decision the next day but did not formally file an appeal with the court until several months later, he said.

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. Town officials angrily denied the claim and produced correspondence that they said made clear that their commitment was for one year only, and the Maine Municipal Association called LePage’s actions unprecedented.

The state’s assuming ownership of the landfill was a crucial part of the LePage administration’s enticing a New Hampshire investor to purchase the two mills last fall. The East Millinocket mill’s restart returned about 225 jobs to the region.

State education officials assured LePage that his actions would not adversely affect the quality of education offered to town students.

The 30-day limit is crucial, Stern argued, to the budgeting practices that govern the distribution of state funds all occurring within the same fiscal year.

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