Media Archive

Atkinson remains a town

Article from The Piscataquis Observer, Vol. 166, No. 14, April 07, 2004

By Jessica Lee
Staff Writer

Legislature worried about precedent, Annis says

ATKINSON The bill to deorganize the town of Atkinson is now dead, according to Rep. Jim Annis, who sponsored LD 1671.

"Basically, I think it's dead," Annis said. "[The bill] came out of the Maine Senate late last week as 'ought not to pass.'"

At that time, the Maine House of Representatives receded and concurred with the Senate's action. The House previously had supported the bill, which would allow the 185-year-old town to dissolve and residents to become a part of the state's unorganized territories.

Many residents feel the town becoming an unorganized township would not affect services. The change, however, would have cut the property tax rate, which last year rose to $19 per $1,000 valuation, to the UT's rate of $8 per $1,000 valuation.

Annis said members of the Senate voted down the bill due to concerns that the town's deorganization could set a precedent for other towns across the state to seek a similar route in order to avoid shouldering higher taxes.

According to Annis, when the bill returned to the House, Rep. George Bunker Jr. "was supposed to make a motion to amend the bill, but he wasn't there." The amendment would have set up a superintendent's agreement process that would have required any student wishing to attend a district other than SAD 41 in Milo to first get approval from the superintendent.

Annis said that the Atkinson Board of Selectmen and SAD 41 Superintendent David Walker all favored the amendment.

"The amendment was to ensure that students would continue to go to Milo," Annis said. "Any transfers to Dover [SAD 68] would only be allowed with the OK from the superintendent in Milo."

Walker previously spoke out against an early draft of the deorganization plan, as it would have allowed residents to send their students to any school district which would have had a major economic impact on SAD 41, due to loss of state subsidy and tuition from the unorganized territory. That loss in funding, in turn, would have been passed onto those towns remaining in SAD 41 in the form of higher
property taxes.

Annis approached House Speaker Patrick Colwell to request the House vote be postponed until the new amendment could be presented for reconsideration. He said he has not heard back from Colwell, but that he would approach him again to make the request. "Monday was the next session, and I didn't hear a thing," he said.

Annis feels that the Senate's concem that other towns would "get on the bandwagon" was invalid due to a new state law passed in January that would have required permission from the Unorganized Territories prior to any town's deorganization. Atkinson was grandfathered and didn't have to request permission from the UT, he added, because their bill was submitted last December.

Now that the new law is in effect, Annis said, "for Atkinson to try to deorganize again, it would be beyond impossible ... because [the town] would have to receive approval from the UT. That would be a major stumbling block.

"It's like saying to the UT, 'Do you mind if Atkinson comes in so your taxes will go up?'" he added.

NOTE - This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of the TRC Alliance Team.