Media Archive

Atkinson Mulls 2nd Attempt to Deorganize

Article from Bangor Daily News, Monday, December 22, 2003

By Diana Bowley
of the NEWS Staff

ATKINSON School choice now appears to be a major factor driving a second attempt to deorganize this small Piscataquis County town.

A public hearing to discuss the deorganization plan will be held at 7:00 p.m. Monday Dec. 29, at the Atkinson Corner Municipal Building. The hearing is the seventh in a 12-step process.

Although an effort in November 2002 to deorganize won support, the 144-86 vote failed to carry the two-thirds majority needed to make the process final. The population of the town is about 300.

While the issues behind the original move to deorganize have not changed, it appears more emphasis is now being placed on school choice, according to Selectman David Kinney, who also is a member of the deorganization committee. Also serving on the committee are Owen Goodine, Amy Rideout, Michael Russell and Sam Andrews.

For Kinney, who supports deorganization, the benefits are threefold: Municipal officials will no longer have to scramble to find someone willing to serve elected and appointed municipal offices; residents will have school choice; and taxes will be lowered.

Opponents say the town will lose local control and the regulatory body will shift from the Department of Environmental Protection to the Land Use Regulation Commission.

The proposed deorganization plan has been accepted by the State Commission on Municipal Deorganization. Within 15 to 30 days after the Dec. 29 public hearing, a special town meeting will be called to determine whether residents accept the plan and are willing to continue the process, according to Kinney.

If the plan is accepted, the document is submitted to the legislature, which must act on whether or not to allow the process to continue to a referendum vote in the November 2004 election.

Under the proposed deorganization plan, the approximately 50 Atkinson students would be tuitioned and bussed to SAD 68 schools and Foxcroft Academy, rather than SAD 41 where they are enrolled now. That change, which has been approved by state education officials, is favored by a large majority of parents who were polled by the committee. The state would pay the tuition for the children who want to remain in SAD 41 or go somewhere other than SAD 68, but parents would have to provide the transportation.

As for the taxes, the current mill rate of $19 per $1,000 valuation would drop to about $8 per $1,000 valuation. The town is in a unique situation since approximately 16,000 of the 24,000 acres in the community are in state-controlled programs that limit the town's ability to tax, such as the tree growth and open space, Kinney said. This shift the burden from one taxpayer to another, according to Kinney.

If the town deorganized, LURC would become the regulatory body and the Piscataquis County commissioners would be the governing body for town roads, fire protection and solid waste. Cemeteries would remain under the control of the local cemetery corporation. Taxes would be assessed by an paid to the state at the county rate, and residents would vote in a neighboring community.

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