Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed closure of the Houlton office of Maine Revenue Services sent this Aroostook community into shock last week.
This has been attempted by past administrations on two different occasions and, each time, the Legislature defeated the measure because it was not a good business move: The Houlton office brings in far more revenue for the state than what it costs to operate the facility. This time, Gov. LePage is attempting to make this closure outside of the required legislative process and with only 10 business days’ notice.
The justifications given for this proposed closure are fraught with inaccuracies and partial information.
The Houlton office of Maine Revenue Services employs 12 people, and two additional positions are vacant. All 12 employees received layoff notices on Wednesday, Aug. 7. To imply that five employees located in Augusta can do the work more efficiently than the 12 employees in Houlton is disingenuous at best.
The staff of the Houlton office have proven themselves to be highly efficient, as evidenced by the volume of work and revenue assessed. It is highly unlikely that five new, untrained employees can be “more efficient” than an experienced workforce of 12, most of whom have more than eight years of experience working for Maine Revenue Services.
If fewer positions are being added in Augusta than those being eliminated, one would have to assume that some of the work being performed by the Houlton office will not be absorbed, resulting in a likely loss of revenue for the state. Any potential for loss of revenue must be looked at as closely as any potential cost savings.
The spokeswoman for the Department of Administration and Financial Services stated that the building being leased in Houlton does not have adequate security to meet Internal Revenue Service standards. But a review of IRS Publication 1075, which some have referenced as the “Bible” for how to handle the safeguarding of Federal Tax Information, leads to a different interpretation.
The administration specifically mentioned 24-hour security, badge readers, and a camera system as lacking at the Houlton office location. The office does indeed have 24-hour security. And the badge reader and camera system are not indicated in Publication 1075 as necessary for the level of access to Federal Tax Information at the Houlton office. The Houlton office is meeting the necessary safeguards.
That said, the landlord has stated that he is open to addressing additional security measures if they are needed despite the fact that no security concerns were ever expressed to the management at the Houlton office or to the landlord.
The employees at Maine Revenue Services in Houlton are an integral part of the local economy of both Houlton and southern Aroostook County. The outpouring of support from Houlton and the surrounding communities since the closure announcement was made has been nothing short of amazing. Letters of support from town councils, the Greater Houlton Chamber of Commerce, local businesses, and residents have been pouring in. The common theme has been the loss of economic development for the region at a time when any job loss is amplified tenfold.
Now is not the time for our leaders to be cutting jobs. Rather, we would hope that Gov. LePage would be focused on creating jobs, growing our economy and standing up for local economic development all across our great state.
Now is not the time to reduce the ability of the state to collect the revenues it is due. We urge the governor to reconsider this short-sighted move and get back to the job of creating good jobs and revitalizing Maine’s economy.
Ginette Rivard of Caribou is president of the Maine State Employees Association SEIU Local 1989.