RUMFORD, Maine — Town Manager Carlo Puiia said Tuesday that he is disappointed that NewPage Corp. will shut down its No. 12 paper machine indefinitely by mid-February.
Ron Hemingway, president of the Local 900 United Steelworkers, told the Sun Journal that “around 120 people” may be affected by that shutdown.
“Well, the mill’s been very forward about the economic situation with the paper industry all along,” Puiia said. “But, of course, it disappoints us when we hear those things that definitely affect our local workers versus companywide-type layoffs. This is more specific, where it’s local.
“We’re very concerned for those workers and their families and how this affects the mill,” he said. “Hopefully, it is a situation that would change and they would restart the machines and bring the employees back to work. I’m being hopeful. But like I said, they’ve been very forward with us all along. It’s a struggling industry.”
Puiia said he hadn’t heard that any paper mill employees lost their jobs Tuesday or were given termination or layoff notices. That’s why he couldn’t yet speculate on the fallout for Rumford.
“It was my understanding that hourly people wouldn’t be affected until February, but there were maybe maintenance and administration people who had heard the news differently and they may be affected sooner,” Puiia said.
“Considering that number of jobs and the number of paychecks, that’s huge on our economy.”
In March, NewPage officials and River Valley business owners urged Rumford selectmen to reduce the mill’s taxes. At the time, town officials learned that NewPage could potentially shut down its Rumford Paper Co. subsidiary. Business owners also urged selectmen to reduce spending in their already-approved proposed 2013-14 budget.
Selectmen, however, can’t reduce the mill’s taxes by law, because that’s up to the Board of Assessors. They also couldn’t reduce the budget without calling for a special town meeting. Townspeople, however, in five months of special town meetings, pared more than $1 million from the budget before finally approving the last item on Election Day, Nov. 5.
But Rumford’s biggest taxpayer — the NewPage mill — is the only benefactor of that budget reduction, Puiia said.
Last Tuesday, the assessors board notified NewPage that the mill’s valuation dropped $46.6 million, going from $176,552,909 to $129,922,313, Puiia said. Mill officials haven’t appealed that change yet, but could.
He said that valuation drop reduced the paper mill’s property taxes by approximately $1.1 million. That also reduced Rumford’s tax rate from $24.25 per $1,000 of real estate to $24.
“In the cuts that were made to the budget, the mill was the benefactor in the result that they’re receiving a reduced property tax bill,” Puiia said.
“Their valuation was reduced by $46.6 million, so they will pay $1.1 million less in property taxes. So because their value is less, we tax them less. So that’s why I say the reduction of the budget was over $1 million and essentially it ends up that the mill is receiving the reduction.”
“Basically, everybody else’s taxes stayed about the same,” he said. “For the most part, most people are going to see the same amount on their tax bill.”
Puiia said although the meeting agenda for selectmen meeting Thursday, Nov. 21, has been set, the town charter allows them to add an item such as the mill news.