RUMFORD — NewPage officials and local businessmen urged selectmen Wednesday night to reduce the paper mill's taxes.
They also asked the board to reduce spending in the coming year and cut the town budget. At issue is the potential that NewPage will shut down its Rumford Paper Co. subsidiary.
Selectmen cannot cut the proposed town budget for 2013-14 without calling a special town meeting.
They can, however, try to find other ways to help, Town Manager Carlo Puiia and board Chairman Greg Buccina said.
"I think everyone in this room shares the same concern," Puiia said.
"Many of our citizens and many of the mill's employees are either unfamiliar or unaware of the limitations we have that prevent us from simply solving the dilemma we face," Puiia said.
Puiia said NewPage pays $4.3 million in property taxes. That's down $1.55 million from the $5.6 million the mill paid in 2008-09. The mill, which employs 850 people to date, roughly pays a third of all property taxes in Rumford.
"This means that unless there were cuts made to the education budget, in order to reduce their tax burden by $2 million, the $8 million municipal budget would need to be reduced by $6 million," Puiia said.
Puiia said he met with Kelly Berry, mill controller, and Jerry Leclaire, mill manager, on Feb. 20 to discuss the mill's tax bill and ways the town could help lower it. Puiia shared that information with selectmen during a budget workshop seven days later and at the March 7 public hearing.
He said that because the Rumford mill pays $2 million more in property taxes than other NewPage mills, it puts them at a disadvantage when profitability and competitiveness in the marketplace could soon determine their survivability.
That was Wednesday afternoon's message from Leclaire, Berry, and Tony Lyons, the mill's Fiber Supply and Public Affairs director.
To reduce costs, Lyons said the mill has directed its employees to help find efficiencies.
"For us to continue to modernize the Rumford mill, we have to have a cost structure that it makes the corporation want to do this and we want it to invest in the mill," Lyons said.
In December, NewPage announced it had completed financial restructuring and emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. On Feb. 19, the Ohio-based corporation said it would reduce its operating costs and workforce due to a decline in demand for its paper.
For the Rumford mill, that meant laying off 45 hourly positions and cutting costs by $2 million.
"I would think the sobering aspect of this whole thing is that on Dec. 27 the news comes out that you're out of bankruptcy and everything seems really rosy and not even three months later, here we are," Sterling said.
Lyons said "it was a sobering few weeks for us, end of January into early February," which is why they approached Puiia on Feb. 20 to alert him.
Selectmen Jeremy Volkernick and Buccina, both NewPage employees, knew of the mill's situation and tried to reduce the budget. It's something Buccina said must happen and continue to happen if Rumford is to survive.
"The town will be here, hopefully for the next century, but we need to make some adjustments" to match those of NewPage, Buccina said.
Matt Kaubris, chief executive officer of the Oxford Federal Credit Union in Mexico, urged the board to do whatever it can to help the mill out through a tax break, tax increment financing, reducing the budget or doing a townwide revaluation.
Kaubris said if the mill shut down for good, it would have a tsunami effect on area businesses.
"What happens at the mill happens to all of us," he said. "This is serious....We've got to do whatever we can to help them."