LePage named in latest Millinocket lawsuit over $216,000 school payment

By Nick Sambides Jr., BDN Staff
Posted Sept. 16, 2012, at 4:33 p.m.

MILLINOCKET, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage was named one of the defendants in the town’s latest filing in its lawsuit seeking $216,000 in state funding he denied to the town in a dispute over the funding of the Dolby landfill in East Millinocket.

According to an amended complaint filed Sept. 12 at Kennebec County Superior Court in Augusta, Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen was obeying the state’s Sudden and Severe Impact law when he indicated in a report titled “Payments Made by the Commissioner of Education” that Millinocket “had been paid” $721,000 in education aid as compensation for the severe devaluation of the Katahdin Avenue paper mill.

“While such payment has never been received by the Town, the report demonstrates that the Commissioner of Education may indeed have taken all of the ministerial steps prescribed [by state law], excepting only physically remitting the issued check to the Town,” attorney Jeffrey T. Piampiano’s filing states.

Instead of receiving the check, the town received a letter from LePage offering to pay the town $504,000 in Sudden and Severe Impact funds – if town officials agreed to assume landfill operational costs for several years, the filing states.

That’s when the dispute began. 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, which is 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.

Adrienne Bennett, LePage’s spokeswoman, has denied that the governor committed any wrongdoing and has refused to comment further on the dispute. State education officials assured LePage that his actions would not adversely affect the quality of education offered to town students, she has said.

Piampiano’s filing claims that LePage never appealed Bowen’s decision to issue the $720,000. LePage’s effort to deny the town less than state law requires “is inconsistent with the Governor constitutional obligation” to ensure that state laws are followed, Piampiano’s filing states.

The matter is pending.

http://bangordailynews.com/2012/09/16/news/penobscot/lepage-named-in-latest-millinocket-lawsuit-over-216000-school-payment/ printed on September 18, 2014