Media Archive

Atkinson deorganization plan faces amendment

Article from The Piscataquis Observer, Vol. 166, No. 4, January 28, 2004

By Jessica Lee
Staff Writer

ATKINSON The plan may change.

The town of Atkinson's proposed deorganization plan is facing another special town meeting this time so residents can vote on an amendment.

The meeting, set for 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 11, at the town hall is being called due to the cry of opposition heard last week during a public hearing on the bill before the State and Local Government Committee.

"The committee would have turned it down as it was presented," said Second Selectman David Kinney, who also represents the board on the town's deorganization committee. "The committee would not even have approved our being able to vote on the deorganization."

The amendment proposed will alter the education portion of the plan, so that the designated school district is SAD 41 in Milo, which currently serves Atkinson. The proposed plan that was opposed vehemently by community and school district leaders assigned SAD 68 in Dover-Foxcroft that responsibility.

If townspeople vote to amend the plan by a majority vote, the town's chances of passing the State and Local Government Committee at a Feb. 18 meeting with an "ought to pass" vote improve greatly, Kinney said.

"The committee said, basically, "no, they wouldn't pass it until we change it," he said.

If the plan then is approved by the State Legislature, the town must vote again on the issue at a general election in November. At that time, the vote must pass with a two-thirds majority in order for the deorganization to become official.

SAD 41 Superintendent David Walker spoke out against the proposed deorganization plan, saying the loss of Atkinson from the district would put an unfair financial burden on the remaining supporting towns Milo, Brownville and Lagrange. The loss of the town through this process would have meant the loss of approximately $360,000 in state subsidy and local assessement, Walker said last week.

Also speaking in opposition to Atkinson's deorganization plan amounting to a withdrawal from SAD 41 were Milo Town Manager Jane Jones and Brownville Town Manager Sophie Wilson. Jones said that the loss of Atkinson from the school district could mean a rise in the Milo tax rate of about $3 per $1,000 valuation.

Kinney said that he believes the townspeople will approve the amended plan, in order to offset the "imbalance of taxation." He said the town is currently subsidizing "a large amount of tree growth and exempt property, which in turn causes a high rate of tax for services provided."

He estimated two-thirds of the 23,225 acres in town now fall under some type of tax exemption program. 'That's where the people's problem is," he said. "That's where the problem began."

Kinney said the school issue arose when the deorganization committee surveyed townspeople as to which school district the township should affiliate with. He said that the deorganization committee would probably not have recommended the change to SAD 68, if it had known beforehand that SAD 41 would suffer as a result.

Either way, if residents do vote to support the amendment, residents will still have a choice when it comes to deciding which district to send their students. Under state law governing unorganized townships, residents have a choice whether to send their students to the designated district, and receive free transportation, or to request a waiver from the Commissioner of Education and provide their own transportation.

Kinney said he was surprised by the opposition facing the former plan, but that he understands the need for the amendment.

The State and Local Government Committee, he said, "couldn't approve something that would hurt other towns and school districts. They did find it to be harmful so that's their job to stop it."

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