Millinocket drops top court appeal of Gov. LePage’s decision to withhold $216,000 from schools

Posted Feb. 19, 2013, at 12:37 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 19, 2013, at 2:07 p.m.
Gov. Paul LePage
Gov. Paul LePage

MILLINOCKET, Maine — Town leaders have dropped an appeal to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court of a lower-court decision denying the town $216,000 in education funding that Gov. Paul LePage ordered withheld last year, interim Town Manager Charles Pray said Tuesday.

“A lawsuit would probably take well through the fiscal year and well into the next one. With the current economy and no paper mill running, the town would rather have money in hand,” Pray said.

The Town Council’s unanimous vote, which occurred after an executive session on Thursday, included a decision to accept $504,000 originally tendered through LePage’s decision, Pray said.

LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett declined to comment Tuesday on the decision.

Councilors informally agreed to press the appeal on Jan. 10. Kennebec County Superior Court Justice Nancy Mills dismissed Millinocket’s complaint on Dec. 21 because Millinocket’s request for the additional funding was filed after the 30-day deadline imposed by the Maine Administrative Procedures Act.

Under the law, she ruled, 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 law. LePage’s decision was announced March 7. The town’s lawsuit was filed June 12.

The fight began between Millinocket and LePage on March 7. That’s 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.

Millinocket 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. East Millinocket leaders said they also never agreed to multiyear payments.

The state assuming ownership of the landfill was a crucial part of the LePage administration’s enticement of a New Hampshire investor to purchase the two mills in the fall of 2011. The East Millinocket mill’s restart returned more than 250 jobs to the region.

Councilor Michael Madore called LePage a “bully” for his actions, and other town leaders criticized the governor for connecting education funding to a landfill in another town that was crucial to new ownership of the region’s paper mills. LePage shrugged off the lawsuit threat.

None of these things, councilors said, had anything to do with the funding of town schools.

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