Media Archive

Atkinson votes to deorganize

Article from The Piscataquis Observer, Vol. 163, No. 19, May 09, 2001

By J.M. Lacey
Staff Writer

Residents in Atkinson have voted to move forward with deorganization efforts. Residents voted 74 to 20 in favor of the deorganization.

The May 2 meeting brought over 100 people to the town hall to hear comments, suggestions and guidelines regarding their desire to deorganize the town. State representatives, Piscataquis County Commissioners and state department of education officials answered residents’ questions regarding education, tree growth and taxes.

Some of the reasons presented for deorganization were because of low population; it is a highly wooded area; and it would reduce the tax burden.

Mark Kinney, a resident of Atkinson, compared the tax evaluation and mill rate of Atkinson to that of Sebec. He said the evaluation don in Atkinson last year was $14 million with a mill rate of $17.80 per $1,000 valuation. Sebec’s evaluation was at $28 million with a mill rate of $11.40 per valuation, he said.

Currently, he said, there is no opportunity to increase their tax base for the approximately 95 homes in town.

Kinney was approached with the facts and figures in March and he compiled them and headed up the efforts to deorganize. Thirty-six residents signed the petition.

The committee is comprised of three registered citizens, Loretta Nuite, Mark Kinney, and George Johnson; Dave Kinney, selectman; and Alice Piche, school board member of School Administrative District #41. The committee will gather information about education services, the distribution of financial liabilities and assets, land use zoning and planning, information about municipalities which include the cost for road construction and maintenance, and population information.

The goal, said Kinney, is to see the effort to deorganize through to the end, have the final vote in November and be approved by the legislature.

The ultimate goal, he said, is to get tax relief by joining the pool of the unorganized territories.

“It is a tax burden to be shifted from the large landowners to the home owners due to the [state] mandated programs,” said Kinney. “It creates an extra tax burden. There are approximately 95 households in the town absorbing those losses in tax revenue.”

When a town is in unorganized territory, the county commissioners contract the services such as road repair, bridge repair, animal control, snowmobile trails, cemetery maintenance and structural fire protection. The legislature is the governing body. The town essentially looses its right to govern themselves.

The property tax division in Augusta handles the taxes, including the collection.

All outstanding debt in the municipality needs to be paid before the town can deorganize. If debts are not paid then an assessment will need tobe done. If the town should deorganize, the mill rate will go up, but a prediction cannot be made as to how much. State representatives stressed that the tax is based on property tax and that it is not state money. Tax issues will have to be addressed with someone in Augusta either by telephone or by mail because there will be no resources in Atkinson to deal with the situations.

The committee first needed to be formed. Within 90 days from the meeting, a plan will then be written to explain to the citizens what will happen. There will then be another public meeting and another vote from residents whether or not to continue with the deorganization plans. Then the legislature has to approve the vote. Then a final vote can be made at the next general election. The process, overall, is two years.

After all is said and done, it would not be until July 2003 before the town could deorganize.

“This is a very big decision for you all to make,” said Doreen Sheive, fiscal administrator of the unorganized territory. “By the time we’re through, the whole of Piscataquis County will become unorganized,” she said.

Education costs are $9 million in the unorganized territories. The education is the largest cost because citizens pay the cost for everyone, Sheive said.

Richard Moreau, superintendent for the unorganized territories, said there are 422 townships he oversees, which is half of the state. There are 1,300 students currently in the unorganized territories. There are 142 students in Atkinson.

“To tell you the truth, I don’t want them,” said Moreau.

Moreau will be working with SAD #41 David Walker to track bus routes and find out the closest location for a school. The superintendent of the unorganized territories is the one that comes up with the plan for education and residents will have the opportunity to see the copy.

The department of education would pay the state average for tuition which this year is $5,700 per pupil.

Walker said that while he cannot deny there are a number of deferred maintenance issues with the schools in the district, the town will not be paying the $13.5 million needed for repairs.

Sheive explained that while the mill rate in Madrid went down once it deorganized, it was because the taxpayers in the unorganized territories picked up the load.

“In the unorganized territory, you pay for everything,” said Sheive. Towns in unorganized territories do not get reimbursed for tree growth.

Tree growth allows for reduced value and it reduces the tax burden and shifts to the other tax payers in town. There are 50 million acres in Maine in tree growth and 3.5 million acres are in municipalities.

Dave Kinney, Atkinson selectman, said 65 percent of the land base they have no control over. Ten percent of land is in open space and five percent is owned by the state.

“This is a lovely town,” Piche commented after the meeting. “But we can’t pay our taxes as they can in the city. What choice did we have?...Even though we voted, we’re not really voting. We have to look into [the matter] further. Personally, I would vote for it if I could tonight. There are still things we need to look at.”

“This is something that is not easy,” said Mark Kinney. “This is very difficult to do.” He said this is a situation where the tax base has been eroded. “This is a town with wild land and poor taxpayers.”

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