January 22, 2022

House kills bill for Atkinson vote Planned amendment not added

AUGUSTA – Even though the House on Friday accepted an ought-not-to-pass minority report that killed a bill to allow Atkinson to vote on deorganization, the bill’s sponsor said it isn’t over yet.

Rep. James Annis, R-Dover-Foxcroft, who sponsored the bill, and Sen. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, co-sponsor, had arranged for Rep. George Bunker, D-Kossuth, to add an amendment to the bill before the hammer hit the block Friday, but the amendment never came. Bunker had been attending another meeting in the State House and had not been informed the matter was to be heard as he had requested, according to Annis.

“I was stunned. I couldn’t believe it was happening because I was assured Bunker would present it,” Annis said.

Annis said he intended to bring the bill back to the floor with the amendment on Monday. The amendment stipulates that Atkinson pupils in kindergarten through eighth grade would attend SAD 41 and that high school students would attend the school selected by the director of schools in unorganized territories.

SAD 41 and Milo officials were supportive of the bill with the amendment, according to Annis and Davis. They did not support the original bill, because a state education official said all Atkinson pupils would be relocated from SAD 41 to SAD 68 as requested by parents. That would have created a projected subsidy and assessment loss of $360,000.

Davis said SAD 41 Superintendent David Walker and Milo Town Manager Jane Jones met with him in Augusta and gave their stamp of approval to the amendment.

“I feel bad it can’t go forward, it was fair to everybody,” Davis said, Friday.

The State and Local Government Committee had voted 7-3 to recommend that the Legislature authorize the request. The bill went before the House late last month as ought-not-to-pass. The vote, however, was 89-45 against the ought-not-to-pass and the bill was forwarded to the Senate. There the bill was tabled until Thursday when the ought-not-to-pass was accepted and the bill was bounced back to the House.

This is the second time the Legislature has voted on Atkinson’s attempts to deorganize. The Legislature approved a similar bill in 2001 but a final vote conducted by Atkinson residents did not carry the two-thirds majority required to complete the process.

Proponents of the bill say the town has little property from which to draw new taxes, since approximately 66 percent of the 23,000 acres in the town are in a tax break or tax-exempt program. This creates a huge imbalance and transfers the tax burden to remaining property owners, they say.

Opponents of the bill say the town will lose local control and is no worse off than other smaller Maine communities.

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