Madawaska paper mill seeks additional tax reduction

Posted Jan. 05, 2013, at 3:01 p.m.

MADAWASKA — Municipal and school budget planners in Madawaska are starting the 2013-2014 fiscal year already looking at $400,000 less revenue thanks to continued valuation abatements granted to the town’s largest employer.

“We are moving along into a new budget year that will reflect another $20 million less valuation for Twin Rivers,” Don Chasse, chairman of the Madawaska Board of Selectmen, said on Thursday. “We must adjust our budgets again.”

Since making its initial valuation abatement request in 2010, Twin Rivers paper mill — formerly Fraser Paper, Inc. — received an initial $25 million valuation reduction, bringing the total valuation to $145 million in fiscal year 2011. Twin Rivers had been looking for a $130 million reduction, which would have dropped the mill’s overall valuation to $40 million, Chasse said.

Instead, the Madawaska Board of Selectmen agreed to assess a valuation of $105 million for the FY 2011-2012 and reduce that assessment to $85 million for FY 2013-2014.

Last month, mill officials notified the town they are seeking an additional valuation abatement to bring the facility’s overall value to around $40 million with an appeal to the state board of property tax review.

“Twin Rivers Paper Company filed an appeal [of the town’s valuation] on Sept. 6,” Louise Merriman, Twin Rivers director of communications, said in a Jan. 3 email. “To be respective of the process, we cannot comment on any details, but we are confident we can continue our collaborative relationship with the town of Madawaska who has been understanding of the situation.”

For their part, town officials feel they have assigned the mill a fair current valuation.

“We felt we did the best job we could with the information we had,” said Town Manager Christina Therrien. “The state could decide [Twin Rivers] is worth less than we said they are, and we are working with that process, but we have never been down this road before.”

In the meantime, budget committees are again rolling up their collective sleeves with the $400,000 revenue loss shared equally between the municipal and school budgets.

“We need to work together to get through this,” Chasse said. “This is not an easy place to be.”

Residents will vote Monday night on a proposed $6.7 million school budget for the current school year, reflecting $525,000 in cuts stemming largely from the loss of revenue from Twin Rivers’ property tax.

The town had already trimmed $250,000 from its own current fiscal year budget.

“It’s been tough, and I would not wish this on anyone,” Chasse said. “But we were elected to run the business of this town and we are doing the best we can.”

Running the town is getting to be more of a challenge he said, as planners face looming cuts to services.

“When you cut year after year after year, you start hitting major services,” he said. “Sooner or later, you impact those important services the citizens expect to have.”

Therrien said her municipal budget committee met in December to begin looking at the upcoming budget in preparation for its first planning meeting later this month.

“We are going to look first and foremost at revenues,” she said. “This can be really hard when you are looking at figures that are shifting all the time [and] we may have to start looking at core services.”

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