Commissioners review Atkinson de-organization plan

By Bill Pearson
Staff Writer

    DOVER-FOXCROFT — The town of Atkinson has a population of 326. It doesn’t sound like a lot of people, but compared to other towns who have attempted to deorganize — it’s a giant. Most municipalities which deorganize usually have about two dozen people. For these tiny towns, the de-organization process is much simpler, but for a town of Atkinson’s size, it is more complicated.

    Most smaller towns aren’t connected with large regional alliances, but Atkinson is. The town is also a member of SAD 41 and must enter into a withdrawal agreement with Milo and Lakeviw Plantation prior to de-organizing. The town is being asked to dispose of its sand and salt shed prior to de-organizing.
    Atkinson is a Hospital Administration District 4 member which will require them to enter into a withdrawal agreement.  They also must divest themselves from their arrangement with the town of Dover-Foxcroft to operate a landfill and transfer station. Atkinson would be required to finance their portion of closing the landfill and transfer station prior to becoming a unorganized territory.
    As part of the de-organization process, the county commissioners approved a plan on April 16 drafted by state and county officials. The plan requires the town to either bring up several roads and bridges to accepted standards or discontinue them. The commissioners have indicated they don’t want Atkinson becoming a UT with any financial liabilities.
    The plan will be reviewed by the Legislature’s State and Local Government Committee prior to being voted on by both chambers. If the plan is approved by the Legislature, the state would hold a public forum in Atkinson prior to residents voting on de-organization.
    County officials believe any de-organization vote by the Legislature would be held in 2015 as emergency legislation.
    For Atkinson, the de-organization process is a familiar one. This is the town’s fourth attempt at becoming an unorganized territory. The most recent attempt occurred in 2003. The effort failed after being defeated by one vote in the state Senate. A previous effort also failed by one vote. Residents couldn’t muster the two-thirds majority needed for adoption during a town vote.
    Atkinson is making another run at de-organizing in an effort to seek relief from a high property taxes. County officials indicated the town’s mil rate is at around 20, while the UT is at 8.7. Complicating Atkinson’s high tax rate is a large segment of the town property is located in open space and sheltered in  tree growth protection.
    The commissioners believe it would be difficult for Atkinson to meet their financial obligations prior to de-organizing. The town has requested to meet those responsibilities over a period of time. Town officials want to place their tax revenue in an escrow account to pay off their obligations over several years. But state officials told the commissioners that scenario would be difficult to manage.
    While the lure of a lower mil rate may be attractive for Atkinson residents, county officials believe those who favor de-organizing may not fully grasp all of the details. County officials estimated when Atkinson becomes  a UT, the mil rate would be close to 13.
    “All they see is that eight,” said Commissioner Fred Trask. “It’s going to be expensive for them to bring their roads and bridges up to standard along with the other things they need to do. They think they can pay off those obligations in 5-10 years, but I don’t think the state will allow it.”
    Trask will attend the legislative committee session when it occurs later this spring. He intends to impress on the Legislature the importance of requiring Atkinson not to bring any indebtedness into the UTs. Both Commissioners Jim Annis and Eric Ward agree with Trask’s position.
    “The UTs got hit with a pretty substantial 30 percent increase several years ago. They got raked over the coals pretty good,” said Commissioner Eric Ward. “I don’t want this to become a big tax shift from Atkinson to the UT taxpayers.

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