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Twin Rivers appeals to state of Maine after Madawaska denies $100 million abatement

MADAWASKA, Maine (From news reports) --Twin Rivers Paper Co. filed an appeal with the state Monday in hopes of getting a more than $1.5 million tax break from the town of Madawaska.

The Madawaska Board of Selectmen last month denied Twin Rivers' request for a $100 million abatement on its valuation. The mill requested the abatement in January after the town assessed the property at more than $178 million, which, according to Twin Rivers, was 92 percent higher than the previous year's valuation.

In its abatement application, filed on Jan. 16, the mill's attorney argued that the property has "a just value of no more than $72 million as of April 1, 2018."

Last year, the mill paid the community $1,883,169 in taxes. Based on the new assessed value of the property, however, it owes about $1.7 million more in taxes this year.

On Feb. 11, Madawaska selectmen denied the abatement request, stating in their motion, "The taxpayer has failed to demonstrate that the assessment is manifestly wrong."

Twin Rivers CEO Ken Winterhalter said Monday that the "town leaders made it clear they were done talking when they presented us with a tax bill of more than double what Twin Rivers paid for 2017.

"In addition to being grossly inflated, the appraisal that formed the basis of the assessment was conducted in violation of Maine law by an appraiser who is unlicensed in the State of Maine," he said, repeating an allegation made in the initial request to the town for the abatement.

Winterhalter stated that Twin Rivers filed an appeal Monday with the Maine State Board of Property Tax Review.

He also indicated that since 2013, when Blue Wolf Capital Partners and Atlas Holdings purchased Twin Rivers, the company and the Select Board had been "operating under a legal agreement that called for any new valuation to be conducted by an appraisal firm chosen by Portland-based law firm, Pierce Atwood. Despite town leaders declaring that agreement to be no longer valid, Twin Rivers continued to abide by the agreement and asked Pierce Atwood to select an appraisal firm."

While the town did not go with Duff and Phelps LLC, the appraiser Pierce Atwood suggested, Twin Rivers did. Winterhalter said the global firm is in the process of completing the appraisal.

Town Manager Gary Picard was unavailable for comment Monday, but said last month that he was not sure why Twin Rivers argued that the town's appraiser was unlicensed.

"The town received a list of appraisal firms qualified to do industrial appraisals, and the town selected a firm through a request for proposal process," Picard said. "The appraiser [MR Valuations of New Jersey] has already done industrial appraisals in Maine including Expera/Old Town Mill, and the Town of Easton for the Huber & McCains operations."

On Monday, Winterhalter said that for the Select Board "to claim a valuation of $178 million is unrealistic at best

"We've been a good neighbor in the St. John Valley. We've been a friend to the town of Madawaska. Friends don't try to take advantage of one another, but that's just what this feels like."

The next Madawaska Select Board meeting is scheduled for March 11.

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