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Town officials explain tax rate increase to unhappy residents

MADAWASKA, Maine — Town officials held a public meeting Monday night to try to explain the recent mill rate spike to a crowd of 300 upset residents.  

The 3 mill increase brings the tax rate from 20.2 to 23.2, which means that a homeowner will pay $23.20 for every $1,000 in property value. A property assessed at $100,000 will cost the homeowner $2,320 in taxes in 2020, which is up $300 on the same property in 2019.

The board had set the new tax rate at its Nov. 12 meeting.

During the Monday, Nov. 25, hearing, the town office provided powerpoint slide printouts of what Town Manager Gary Picard was addressing. 

Chairman of the Board of Selectmen Don Chasse said Monday’s session held at Madawaska High School was not a hearing, but an informational meeting and that no vote would be taken. Instead he insisted that concerns and questions brought to the board would be considered for the next budget cycle of 2020-2021. 

Picard began the informational session with the history behind the relationship between Twin Rivers Paper mill and the town of Madawaska. 

After years of back-and-forth with Twin Rivers, the Board of Selectmen authorized the Twin Rivers Assessment Committee, the town’s lawyer and the property assessor to interview potential appraisal firms in 2018.

The “interview group” recommended MR Valuation to conduct the appraisal. The board accepted the recommendation and hired the firm. 

Prior to the final decision in February 2018 to select MR Valuation, former board member Brenda Theriault said she went to Picard with concerns about the firm due to the previous Twin Rivers’ abatement. After the meeting in executive session with the town lawyer, the board proceeded with the selection and hired the firm.  

“I never felt comfortable with that firm,” Theriault said Tuesday. 

The firm was never licensed in the state of Maine to perform appraisals, according to multiple officials at the meeting Monday night. 

When asked why the unlicensed firm was even involved, Chasse replied that “it fell through the cracks.” 

“Then why are we being punished for it?” Bev Madore, a resident and member of the School Committee, said. 

In August 2018, MR Valuation submitted an appraisal that valued Twin Rivers at $225,319,000 making the taxable amount $178,069,925 after the Business Equipment Tax Exemption program reduction. That program allows for a business to claim personal property, or business equipment, and if it does so before April 1 every year, the value of the qualifying personal property will not be taxed. 

Twin Rivers’ rebuttal was a tax abatement request in January 2019 and in July, both parties agreed to enter into binding arbitration. 

At the conclusion of the arbitration, it was determined that the new value of Twin Rivers was $92,500,000. Making the difference in taxes “in the ballpark, we had to make it up through either revenue or the mill rate. It was in the ballpark of a difference of $1.5 million,” Chasse said. 

The board’s solution was to ncrease the tax rate for residents’ properties by 3 mills. 

The next meeting of the Board of Selectmen will be a joint meeting between the selectmen and the School Committee to discuss Valley Unified updates at 4 p.m. Monday, Dec. 2, in the superintendent’s conference room. 

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