EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — Katahdin region leaders will meet Monday night to discuss ways they can save money and build the ailing Katahdin region economy.
The meeting is set for the East Millinocket library at 6:15 p.m. The elected leaders of the governments of the adjoining towns of East Millinocket, Medway and Millinocket haven’t met jointly in years, East Millinocket Administrative Assistant Shirley Tapley said.
“Tonight’s a brainstorming session to get everyone together,” Tapley said Monday. “You need to start somewhere and this is the first baby step.”
“The first thing is to build better relationships,” Millinocket Town Manager Peggy Daigle said late last week.
Millinocket leaders sought the meeting in immediate response to that town’s financial difficulties. Millinocket Town Councilor Michael Madore said they also recognize the area’s common problems with high unemployment, declining populations and state aid, rising costs and flattening incomes.
“We can’t get new jobs to come into the area with a $30 mill rate,” Madore said, referring to property taxes. “We want to share where we are and see where there is common ground.”
Millinocket’s rate of taxation on properties is $29.95 per $1,000 of valuation. East Millinocket’s mill rate is 23.33 but might increase when the new rate is set by early November, Tapley said.
Medway’s mill rate, set in December 2012, is 27.2.
Clint Linscott, chairman of East Millinocket’s Board of Selectmen, said he was receptive to discussing cost-sharing or combining efforts with Millinocket provided they would save his town money.
Rob Farrington, chairman of Medway’s Board of Selectmen, declined to comment on his goals or expectations for the meeting.
An historic shift shuddered the Katahdin region in 2008 when the Millinocket paper mill closed. Prior to then, the Katahdin region’s largest town by population dominated the area economically with the paper mill and its array of downtown businesses.
Since then, the East Millinocket paper mill is the area’s largest single employer, and Medway’s Scotts Co. wood mulch and fertilizer plant has become a sustaining force in the region’s economy. Of the three towns, Millinocket’s population has also shrunk the most dramatically in numbers.
State aid to the three towns has shrunk dramatically, but their town governments have responded by combining or cutting services and jobs.
East Millinocket’s receiving an increase in state aid in response to the recent devaluation of the local paper mill has largely offset the shrinkage other towns have seen, Tapley said. Still, state government cut aid to the town by $150,000 this year, and town government cuts didn’t entirely offset the loss.
“The only thing I can tell you now [about the town’s next mill rate] is that revenue sharing will be the issue,” Tapley said.
Job creation and economic development are significant issues for the region, Tapley said.
The last meeting of the Katahdin region’s joint economic development board occurred in October 2012 as its money ran out, Tapley said. The board will get a fresh infusion of its annual $75,000 allotment within the next month or so.
The money comes from the two mills’ previous owner as part of an agreement made to help cover the economic shock of the Millinocket mill’s closure.