Skowhegan faces $2.2 million assessment question

The Skowhegan Board of Assessors on Friday postponed a decision on a request by Sappi Fine Paper North America to cut the property tax value of its paper mill on U.S. Route 201 by more than $137 million, which could cost the town $2.2 million in revenue.

Three meetings have been held this month on the issue of the fair market value of the mill for tax purposes. Maine law provides that property taxes must be based on the market value of a property.

Assessors, representatives of the mill, attorneys and Skowhegan’s assessor’s agent Bill Van Tuinen have addressed various methods of figuring out what the mill is worth. The sessions have been held behind closed doors due to laws protecting the confidentiality of some company information.

The paper mill is assessed for taxation by the town at $463,630,900. The company claims the property should be taxed based on a value of $326,343,426. The difference — the amount by which the company says the valuation needs to be cut — is $137,287,474. Sappi’s estimate of the mill’s value is based on a study by a Duff & Phelps Corp., a New York valuation firm.

Town Manager Christine Almand has estimated that Skowhegan could face refunding $2.2 million in property tax overpayments if Sappi prevails in its bid for a further cut in the mill valuation retroactive to last April.

After the three meetings this month there still are questions, Van Tuinen told the group Friday after the assessors returned to a public session.

“You’re in the driver’s seat as to where you want to go from here,” Van Tuinen told the three-member assessors’ board. “You can take a little time — you can sleep on it for another week or two — or say that you’ve heard enough and that it’s time to make a decision.”

The board opted to sleep on it.

Sappi filed a formal property tax abatement application in March with the Skowhegan Board of Assessors for its Somerset mill, asking that the town lower its tax commitment. The board has until May 4 to make a decision.
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