Media Archive

Atkinson deorganization plan to be amended

Article from Bangor Daily News, Thursday, January 22, 2004

By Diana Bowley
of the NEWS Staff

ATKINSON - A deorganization plan proposed by Atkinson is expected to be amended to reflect that transportation will be paid for local students to attend SAD 41 schools, rather than a proposed change to SAD 68 schools.That amendment came as a compromise from an Atkinson town official Wednesday, during a public hearing held by the State and Local Government Committee in Augusta.

David Kinney, Atkinson selectman and a member of his town's deorganization committee, told lawmakers that he was aware of a lot of opposition from many sectors to the proposed change in schools.

Rather than have the bill die because of the education component, even though a majority of the parents of schoolchildren support the change, Kinney agreed to the amendment. He said the committee would rather make the compromise to allow residents the right to vote on deorganization.

Because Commissioner of Education Susan Gendron approved the proposed move from SAD 41 to SAD 68 in the deorganization plan, her permission is needed to amend the plan. Once her answer is received, the amended plan will need action by Atkinson voters during a special town meeting.

Anticipating that the amended plan will be approved by residents and an amendment to the bill submitted by Rep. Jim Annis, R-Dover-Foxcroft, co-sponsored by Sen. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, the State and Local Government Committee set a work session for Feb. 18.

This is the town's third attempt to deorganize, the second of which resulted in a bill to the Legislature. Residents voted down the first attempt before a bill was introduced. The second attempt failed to carry the two-thirds majority vote by residents necessary to finalize the process.

Supporters of each of the attempts to deorganize claim the town is carrying a unique tax burden because of the vast amount of property in open space and tree growth. Of the approximately 23,000 acres in the community, 15,500 acres are in some type of exempted program, Kinney said. That creates a huge imbalance and transfers the tax burden to the remaining 7,500 acres and the 200 homes in the town, he said. The town's tax rate is $19 per $1,000 valuation and is expected to increase by 2 mills next year.

"A good portion of the blame is right here in Augusta," Kinney said. "We're not getting the property tax relief."

It was noted that the value of land in tree growth in Atkinson last year was $1,444,120. If the land were not in tree growth the value would be $3,626,100, which represents a loss in value to the town of $2,181,980. For that, the state reimbursed the town $12,632. In addition, there are 2,460 acres in open space valued at $516,600, yet the fair market value is $738,000.

School choice also was an issue in the current drive for deorganization. For many Atkinson residents, Dover-Foxcroft schools are closer. They also cited a broken commitment from SAD 41 when the district closed the town's small elementary school several years ago.

The proposed change in schools would come at great cost to SAD 41 and its member towns, both school and town officials testified Wednesday. Milo Town Manager Jane Jones and Brownville Town Manager Sophia Wilson said Atkinson's withdrawal would result in a 3 mill increase in each of their communities.

For Milo, which already has the dubious distinction of having the third highest adjusted property tax rate in the state of nearly $25 per $1,000 valuation, that would be too much to bear, Jones said. Milo pays about 50 percent of all the local dollars used by SAD 41, she said.

The change in school districts also would have a significant adverse affect on LaGrange and Lakeview, the other two SAD 41 communities, according to Superintendent David Walker. Walker said the loss to the district the first year would amount to $360,000 which includes state subsidy for the approximately 50 Atkinson students and Atkinson's assessment as a member of the district.

Walker doubted that SAD 68 could support the additional students saying that directors there are looking to build a new elementary school because they are overcrowded. In addition, he said SAD 68 declined a recent request to take on a special education student because they were "overloaded," yet Atkinson has five more who would need special services. He said he could not support the deorganization plan as proposed.

Nor were some state officials supportive of Atkinson's plan to deorganize. The committee was told that should Atkinson deorganize, it would represent one of the largest communities in the state to deorganize. Its education costs would be spread among all of the unorganized territories in the state, which would result in higher mill rates for those territories.

Others said if Atkinson deorganizes, other communities will follow suit.

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