East Millinocket to consider budget cuts as help is organized for laid-off millworkers

Posted Feb. 07, 2014, at 2:57 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 07, 2014, at 5:45 p.m.
Duane Lugdon
Duane Lugdon
Shirley Tapley
Nick Sambides
Shirley Tapley

EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — Town leaders scheduled a meeting next week to discuss curtailing expenses as charity and state labor organizations were preparing Friday to help 212 workers temporarily laid off from the Main Street paper mill the day before.

Thursday’s layoffs bring to 412 the number of paper millworkers laid off in northern Penobscot County since Dec. 6. That’s when Lincoln Paper and Tissue LLC cut 200 workers from its payroll as part of a temporary response to an explosion that destroyed a recovery boiler the month before. LPT’s three tissue-making machines are still operating.

In direct response to the announcement Thursday of the temporary layoff of 212 of 256 workers at the Great Northern Paper Co. LLC mill on Main Street, East Millinocket’s Board of Selectmen will meet at 4 p.m. Monday to discuss reducing expenses within the 2013-14 municipal budget, said town Administrative Assistant Shirley Tapley.

Reductions may be necessary because East Millinocket is still owed the company’s first-half tax payments for the 2013-14 fiscal year, with second-half bills due this month, officials said.

East Millinocket is owed $659,700 in property taxes this year, down slightly from the $700,000 town officials agreed to when the mill reopened in October 2012 due to a slight decrease in the town’s mill rate.

Great Northern Paper and its parent, Cate Street Capital, was the largest single employer in East Millinocket prior to the layoffs.

Town Budget Committee member Tina Dionne said she expected that layoffs of town workers would be among the things East Millinocket leaders discussed on Monday, but Tapley said that wasn’t certain.

Tapley has recommended to selectmen that she begin on Tuesday to meet with department heads and go through budgets line by line to determine where cuts can be made to the budget, which lapses June 30. Discussions of the 2014-15 budget are on hold, Tapley said.

“I think the board will direct the department heads to give us direction,” Tapley said Friday. “I don’t know how much there is that we can cut because we have done this once or twice since 2011. I have already spoken to some of the department heads. We will look at everything.”

The Maine Department of Labor will hold its first Rapid Response Team meeting with laid-off workers at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday at Schenck High School, a department spokeswoman said. The public is invited. Rapid Response workers help layoff victims to find other work or training in new professions through federal and state programs.

“We are also working on a separate issue related to training workers for the natural gas market (installing residential natural gas) through our apprenticeship program, and this may result in opportunities for workers affected by the Lincoln and Millinocket mill layoffs who are interested in retraining for a different career. The department is continuing to identify areas in which we can train workers for in-demand jobs,” Labor Department spokeswoman Julie Rabinowitz said in a statement on Friday.

United Steelworkers Union representative Duane Lugdon encouraged residents to attend the Rapid Response team meeting and to donate to East Millinocket’s Good Shepherd Food Bank at 1 Dirigo Drive, Suite 1, East Millinocket 04430. The laid-off workers should also inquire about the Joe-4-Oil fuel assistance program at www.citizensenergy.com or by calling 877-563-4645, he said.

“We want to do everything we can to help the workers [at Great Northern and Lincoln Paper] to get through what’s left of the winter,” said Lugdon, whose union represented all the blue-collar workers at the Lincoln mill and about 120 at East Millinocket.

GNP spokesman Scott Tranchemontagne said Thursday that the company hopes for a production restart in 16 weeks or sooner. Forty-four employees will continue to work on cost reduction initiatives and keep needed systems running until then, he said.

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