The town of Atkinson, nestled between Dover-Foxcroft and Milo, is one step closer to deorganizing, now that Gov. Paul LePage has signed a bill to authorize the effort.
Gov. LePage signed LD 1484 on April 12, which represents the state’s approval of the deauthorization of the Piscataquis County town. The final step will be a townwide referendum in November.
If the majority of the estimated 330 residents vote in favor of the measure, Atkinson will become the largest municipality in Maine to dissolve into the vast 9 million acres of Unorganized Territory. In that case, the state and county would govern the territory.
In the past 20 years, Atkinson residents have tried unsuccessfully three times to dissolve their town.
Voters rejected the first attempt in 1997. In 2002, the Legislature approved a bill, but it failed to muster the necessary resident approval. In 2004, voters approved the initial decision, but the bill failed to gain traction in the Legislature.
The townspeople began trying for a fourth time in 2013. The bill LePage signed earlier this month is the result of that most recent attempt.
Residents have consistently cited high property taxes as their primary reason for wanting to dissolve their local government.
Approximately 17,000 of the town’s 23,000 acres are regulated for Tree Growth and Farm and Open Space Laws. The laws, which allow landowners to set aside forested property for future timber harvesting and pay lower taxes on the property, shift the remainder of the tax burden to town residents.
To finalize the deal, Atkinson residents must meet two thresholds in the November vote, according to Marcia McInnis, the fiscal administrator for Unorganized Territory in the state auditor’s office. At least 50 percent of the voters who cast ballots in the last gubernatorial election must participate in the deauthorization vote, and the measure has to pass by at least a two-thirds majority.
If the vote is successful, the town will dissolve on July 1, 2019.
Follow the Bangor Daily News on Facebook for the latest Maine news.