Re-Open the Budget, End the Moratorium, Save the Town

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Re-Open the Budget, End the Moratorium, Save the Town

Post by Big Jim on Sat Aug 20, 2011 9:10 pm

My column for River Valley Sun this week.

Rumford, Maine-Companies, like responsible individuals, hold their financial information close to the vest. Companies keep financial information, especially any possible impending difficulties firmly under wraps in order to protect business relationships, to continue to be able to purchase what they need without difficulty for example and protect stock prices staving off potential takeover bids from competitors who see these difficulties as a weakness to be exploited.

For NewPage to be in effect advertising the company’s possible impending difficulties on their website, their need to renegotiate debt, and most importantly to go so far as to suggest the possibility of filing Chapter 11, rather than a statement they are NOT looking and do NOT anticipate looking into filing Chapter 11 in the business world is as much as saying Chapter 11 is the most likely course, take notice.

Rumford’s Town Managers, Board of Selectpersons, Planning Board, Finance Committee, and Board of Assessors should have taken notice long before this “announcement.” These Town officials should have taken notice with the sales of assets critical to the operation of the Rumford Mills, the removal of so much equipment, and the elimination of so much production capability.

Something has to be terribly wrong for a company to sell off its raw material supply, but that is exactly what NewPage did with the sale of all the forestry assets and the closing of the forestry division. Something has to be terribly wrong when a company with a high energy demand sells off its in-house energy production capacity, the hydro facility and CoGen. Something has to be terribly wrong with the removal and cleanup of a majority of the facilities waste processing operations. Something has to be terribly wrong when paper machines and supporting operations are not only shut down but actually removed and sold to overseas concerns or for scrap! How could all of this have gone seemingly unnoticed, unacknowledged, uncompensated for in Town affairs by these elected and appointed Town officials? How could they possible miss the shrinking number of workers in the mill, that it is rare for a mill employee to be under the age of 40, and the tremendous number of their neighbors who have been permanently laid off, many forced to move away abandoning their homes in order find work?

None of this has been a secret. NewPage filed for and received a very large property tax abatement because of some of these activities. Others resulted in tax bills going to other entities and in one case a large property tax abatement was granted to one of these as well. The effect of these abatements has been devastating to many of the remaining property tax payers forced to make up for the lost revenues.

Former Selectperson Mark Belanger brought the issue of the inevitable mill closing up again and again over his six years in office. Each time he was brushed off by other board members and the succession of Town Managers. “If you thought the 21% tax increase was bad a few years ago watch what happens now!” Belanger said.

Former Selectperson Frank DiConzo has been bringing the matter up even longer than Belanger. “No one believed it could happen because of their lack of insight. You know that old saying ‘You can lead a horse to water but can't make them drink.’ I tried for many years to make cuts that the town could afford but other board members couldn't see the writing on the wall. A town of less than 6000 people with department heads and unions dictating and controlling this town has been happening for years. But the citizens didn't listen to us.”

On the current Board of Selectpersons, DiConzo said, “This broad will do nothing to reclaim this town from this type of control. I've always maintained that the employees of Rumford work for the citizens. We don't work for them. Changes could have been made to save money many times both past and present. Board members turned deaf ears and continue to do so.”

With 46% of Rumford’s property tax revenue coming directly from NewPage and an undermined additional amount coming from the mills 750 employees, and businesses dependent on the mill and its employees for survival, a reasonable person would have expected the Board of Selectpersons to jump right on this at their meeting last Thursday, but the very heavily tinted rose colored glasses are firmly in place on the noses of the Town Manager and Selectpersons. What makes this even more disturbing, while you and I may have only learned of this a few days ago, Ron Hemingway, recording secretary for local 900 of the United Steel workers said a corporate spokesperson told the union about this a month ago! Certainly the Town Manager and other town officials were told as well and the Union Representatives had a moral if not legal obligation to notify union members and the Town so all could prepare for the possibility!

Now that the various newspapers have blown the lid of the story, Rumford Town Manager Carlo Puiia is, “trying to contact mill management to discuss the financial situation but has so far been unsuccessful.” According to the only mention of the matter, this statement in his Town Manager’s Report at Thursday’s meeting, to various press inquiries, and whenever asked about the subject by citizens.

When the Town’s new Auditor gave his report on August 4th, he warned the Selectpersons that anyone looking out their window should be cognizant they were looking at ½ the town’s revenue. He spoke of other Maine towns like Millinocket and Jay that have lost their mills. He said that when the Mill goes, the Town will be in real trouble within a year. He advised the Board to start planning now for that eventuality. That eventuality appears to be NOW!

“We have great concern for their financial health, for the county and River Valley citizens,” Puiia says.

So why didn’t the Board of Selectmen roll up their sleeves and get to work with a chain saw on the budget preparing for an emergency town meeting to make cuts? The homeowners and business owners are not able to make up for the loss of 46% of the town’s revenues. Should NewPage carryout the likely Chapter 11 filing the newly agreed to labor agreement will go out the window. Businesses holding accounts with the mill may be lucky to see pennies on the dollar and it may well take years for them to see those pennies. The mill may close. Chapter 11 or closure, the loss of cash flow in the community will take out more of the local small businesses many running very marginally already costing even more jobs. Any way you look at it, Rumford is unlikely to see payment in full if any, on the mill’s property tax bill for this year even less likely next year.

The other thing the Board of Selectpersons need to do is take the sage advice of Candice Casey, Richard McInnis, and so many others and drop the anti-wind project ordinance foolishness. The Board should immediately vote to repeal the moratorium and hope a company will come in with a project to bring in tax revenues, economic activity during constructions, and at least a few long-term jobs.

As Richard wrote in his recent letter to the editor in the Lewiston Daily Sun:

“I have to agree with Candice Casey that the town doesn't have people qualified to create a wind power ordinance. I believe the voters in town do not have any faith in the local boards. Some of the people on the boards had never been to a wind project until after they served on the ordinance board. How could these people understand what problems could be created with such a large and technical project?

The Department of Environmental Protection standards and the state Planning Office have made many changes since the first industrial wind project. The state has qualified engineers and environmental personnel to inspect and regulate the industry.

I believe they have the best interest of the state's population in mind and would work with towns proposing wind projects. An ordinance created with those people and local people would probably pass with a yes vote.

Landowners are waiting before they sell any land to the wind project developers. I believe they should not be taxed for land held from sale to wind projects. They also have the option to close all their land for recreational purposes to the general public.

How long will this fiasco have to be extended?”

This “fiasco” must come to an end immediately with a great big neon “welcome mat” laid out, the doors flung wide open for any tax paying businesses willing to come to Rumford.

Big Jim

Number of posts : 57
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Re: Re-Open the Budget, End the Moratorium, Save the Town

Post by RiverValleySun on Sat Aug 20, 2011 11:18 pm

Very well said. It remains to be seen whether the Selectpersons and Town Manager will get their acts together and pull the town's people together to reinvent Rumford into a great community or just sit back and watch it sputter to a final whimpering expiration.


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