MILLINOCKET, Maine — The town could proceed as early as next week with a legal complaint against Gov. Paul LePage for $216,000 in state aid the governor ordered withheld from the town, Town Manager Eugene Conlogue said Wednesday.
Conlogue said he awaits a letter from Town Council Chairman John Davis formally authorizing the legal action. Conlogue said he believes it might arrive as early as next week.
“We want to make sure we have all our bases covered as we go from one step to the next,” Conlogue said Wednesday.
Councilors have been discussing whether to proceed with a lawsuit or other form of legal action against the LePage administration over the funding since March 8. One of the hurdles they have had to overcome is state legislative permission to proceed with a claim, but Conlogue said town attorneys have found a way around that requirement.
“We believe we no longer need that with the type of case we have,” said Conlogue, who declined to comment further on that aspect of the issue.
Jeffrey Piampiano, an attorney at the Portland law firm of Drummond Woodsum who was hired to handle the matter, declined to comment Wednesday on the pending legal action.
The fight began when LePage claimed that town leaders broke their pledge to pay $50,000 annually toward the estimated $250,000 annual cost of the maintenance and operation of the Dolby landfill in East Millinocket used by the region’s two paper mills. He issued $504,000 on March 7 instead of the $720,000 the town is owed in Sudden and Severe Impact funds.
As part of the $250,000 deal that state officials were engineering, East Millinocket pledged another $50,000 in cash and services to complement the $150,000 the state would have offered.
Sudden and Severe Impact funds are given by the state to municipalities to cushion against steep tax losses — in the towns’ case, the closure of their paper mills. The LePage-engineered sale of both mills to a New Hampshire investor was crucial to the East Millinocket mill’s restart last October, restoring more than 200 jobs.
Millinocket officials angrily denied LePage’s claim. Saying LePage had connected unrelated issues and acted illegally, town leaders produced a string of correspondence that showed they never agreed to more than one $50,000 payment. East Millinocket officials, who also said they never agreed to fund more than one payment, received the first of several payments in late March.
Adrienne Bennett, LePage’s spokeswoman, did not immediately return a telephone message seeking comment on Wednesday.
The Millinocket School Committee and councilors met in executive session last week to discuss the legal complaint. Councilors stopped an earlier discussion on the issue when it became clear that they didn’t know whether committee members favored proceeding. Conlogue declined to comment on that meeting.