Ashland holds tax rate, eyes future of ReEnergy site
ASHLAND, Maine — The Ashland Town Council voted to set its property tax rate at $27.75 per $1,000 of property value while acknowledging that next year’s financial situation could change with the closing of the ReEnergy biomass plant.
At the council’s Aug. 20 meeting, members discussed various options with town manager Cyr Martin, including slight increases that could offer the town a cushion for the year.
Ultimately, councilors decided to keep the same$27.75 tax rate as in 2018, but discussed the potential implications of one of its largest taxpayers — ReEnergy — demolishing or removing equipment from its shuttered biomass electricity plant.
ReEnergy, which closed its Ashland plant in April, currently pays more than $457,000 in property taxes, an amount that would drastically decrease if the mill is demolished or its equipment is removed, Martin said.
“Next year is where we’re going to have to think about it if they remove it all,” Martin said.
“Hopefully ReEnergy sells and somebody comes up with something,” he added, referring to efforts to find another forestry business to operate at the site.
A significant reduction in ReEnergy’s tax liability and Ashland’s total real estate valuation would mean that Ashland’s school district, MSAD 32, would receive more funding from the state, said Councilor Ralph Dwyer.
But “it’s hard to tell” whether that will translate into a neutral financial situation for the town’s taxpayers on the municipal side of the budget, Dwyer said.
Also at the council meeting, Martin promoted police Officer Laney Merchant to the rank of sergeant.
Ashland and the town of Washburn are sharing management of police services, with Martin serving as police chief and overseeing police staffing for both towns.
“It’s going well so far,” Martin said. “I spent two or three evenings in Washburn. We’re going to try this for a few years and see how it goes.”
The towns each have one police sergeant and one officer, plus reserve officers and officers hired from other towns on a supplemental basis, Martin said.
Much like other northern Maine employers, small town police departments are facing a worker shortage, Martin said.
“It’s like pulling teeth. You can’t find any officers. The money is not there,” he said.
Entry-level police officers are often paid in the same range as new teachers, starting at $17 per hour and just under $42,000 after graduating from the Maine Criminal Justice Academy, Martin said.
At the same time, public safety needs are still significant, Martin said. “There’s so much drugs going on we can’t even keep up with it.”
In other Ashland news, a group of citizens received the go-ahead from the town council to start fundraising for a small waterpark, also known as a splash pad.
Impressed by the popularity of Presque Isle’s splash pad during the summer, the group plans to raise $75,000 in donations that would match a $75,000 community development grant to build a small water park as an affordable alternative to a municipal pool.