RUMFORD — Tax bills should finally go out this week, an apologetic Town Manager Carlo Puiia told selectmen on Thursday night.
He attributed it not to news two weeks ago that NewPage Corp. filed for bankruptcy, but rather to a delay in getting the tax commitment finalized.
“Those numbers have been pretty much shored up today, and we should be able to announce what our mill rate will be I believe on Monday, but it may be as late as Tuesday,” Puiia said.
“So, shortly thereafter, you will be receiving your tax bills in the mail. Sorry.”
Puiia also addressed mounting speculation that NewPage wouldn't pay its taxes this year for the Rumford mill after announcing on Sept. 7 that the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
NewPage is North America's largest manufacturer of coated paper and employs about 750 people at its Rumford mill. The company also pays 46 percent of the town of Rumford's property taxes.
“The Rumford Paper Co., as it's called, is part of that corporation, and I want to let everybody know that I was told by their finance person just recently that the mill will pay their property taxes on time,” Puiia said.
“So they've committed to getting us our property taxes as soon as we supply them with the bill.”
Chapter 11 allows a business to continue operating as usual while working with creditors to develop a plan that explains how they will satisfy their obligations and restructure their debt.
Some of that debt is based in Rumford. NewPage owes $2.7 million to Rumford Falls Hydro LLC, owned by Massachusetts-based Brookfield Renewable Power Inc.
“This mill has been a good corporate neighbor to all of us, and they're going to continue to be so,” Puiia said, reading from a prepared statement.
He said the town should recognize that the mill has “a great deal of assets,” including its employees.
“Nonetheless, we all know that our national economy and also our state economy continues to struggle, and we also continue to see that our society is changing more and more to an electronic business climate,” Puiia said.
“So there are no promises or guarantees that this reorganization will succeed. However, I have faith that our mill will survive this and continue to run for some time.”
He said that despite comments by pessimists and alarmists about the bankruptcy proceedings, from a municipal standpoint, Rumford needs to be pragmatic.
“It's not a time to panic. It's a time to plan,” Puiia said.
“Now in other towns and cities that have faced similar situations, they have reacted. But in haste, they overreacted and made poor decisions.”
“We all want to do what is best for the taxpayers, but not to the detriment of the citizens or their well-being,” he said.
As public servants, Puiia said town officials have an obligation to ensure public safety and to perform the duties imposed on them by state law.
“We still must face the challenge of potential reductions in tax rates and accept our livability to the problems and challenges our largest taxpayer may face in the future.
Puiia said he met with all the department heads this past week and told them selectmen will schedule workshops with them to discuss operations and formulate contingency plans.
However, he said the board should first complete the tax commitment, and then finish drafting the wind ordinance proposal as soon as possible, “and shortly thereafter, begin these important discussions.”
Should Rumford experience significant losses in taxable revenues, Puiia said he believes that town services remain important to its citizens.
“I believe we owe it to them to act as prudently as possible,” he said.
“And as I said when I began at this position, the Rumford of today is no longer the Rumford of yesterday. And together, we must plan for the Rumford of tomorrow.”