Woodland Town Council Focuses on School and EPA Regulation

By Jarod Farn-Guillette


The recent Baileyville Town Council meeting presided over the usual maintenance, approving warrants 70-74, that cover operating costs and normal payroll for the municipality, along with the regular approval of previous minutes. The department head had nothing to report, save for sports and park clean up. The bulk of discussion centered on the proposed new school construction and the town manager's report regarding EPA regulation that would have impacted the mill's operation. Other business included approving the full loan re-payment by the Snowmobile Club, the closing of an MDOT Street Escrow fund, placing it in the general fund account, the closing of a certificate of deposit account and transferring funds to general fund. All passed with unanimous approval. 

School Plans

Superintendent Braun then gave a detailed presentation, with architectural plans and projected costs associated with the possible futures for school facilities in Baileyville. Providing budget estimates for two options, temporary repairs and upgrades to the existing facilities, and the costs of building a new school facility, the projected annual costs are $343,187.14 vs. 521,849.22, according to Braun's calculations. Mentioning the many structural and environmental issues affecting the building, ranging from water damage, mold, kitchen inefficiencies, leaking windows, and required upgrades to heating, electric and bathrooms, he emphasized the many issues the current facility faces. With a litany of complaints along with projected student enrollment increases, he gave a persuasive argument for a new school. Ending his list mentioning the dual use of gym floor space as cafeteria, stating “ The more time we roll tables and chairs across that floor the faster it's going to deteriorate. I give it three to five years and you'll be replacing it, or you can do something else.”  He presented a choice between “placing a band-aide on it” or doing something to the “old house” of 53 years. Stressing his role as increasing the educational opportunities for students in the area, he said a new building is essential in that aim. 

Though the idea of a new school is noble and in theory was well received by the council, council member Tim Call was initially suspect of Braun's numbers and stressed the need for public input and awareness of the impact on local property taxes as a result of the proposed new building construction. Call asked the question, “How come you have savings on just the new construction and you don't have any on just repairing?” Referring to Braun's projected savings projection of $110,000 in reduced building operation costs. Braun responded with “There would be some savings, but I can't estimate that.” Braun's motivation for advancing the project on a faster schedule stemmed from possible federal increases to interest rates in the coming year, which would also add increased costs to both proposals, whichever is selected by the people of Baileyville, an important decision to make on the future of the woodland village. Call then provided a scenario of the tax increase that could arise from the nearly $10,000,000 new construction option desired by Braun. Asking him, “What do you think [the taxes of] an  $80,000 home at 25 mill is going to be in this town?” Braun quickly provided  an answer yet it was the follow up question by Call, “What do you think they are paying right now?” The current rate being 16-17%, the point being stressed is the increase in taxes being anywhere from $700 to $1300 on the individual tax payer, not accounting for any potential depreciation in the town's value.  Other questions posed to the superintendent asked questions of the opinion of the school committee on the new construction project, being majority in favor, and the other on increased enrollment. With such an impact on potential taxes for the average resident in town, but the much needed improvements, many that would only be a temporary fix, needed by the school, Baileyville has an large decision ahead of them. The town manager's assessment, being that in 6 to 7 years, a 25% mill rate is a likely scenario, but students can't study effectively in leaky and damp buildings. They will have to decide at an upcoming public hearing on the project, between paying more in taxes or improving conditions and in-turn the better futures for their children. 

Waters of the United States off the table – for now

Town Manager Richard Bronson updated council and members of the public on President Trump's executive order to the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider Waters of the United States or WOTUS regulation. The regulation, which is still visible on the EPA's website, would have given significant powers to the agency based on the “nexus” of significant waterways within a 100-year floodplain. The worry, mainly regarding the mill's power generation plants and others along upper St. Croix River appears to have abated some with President Trump's February 28th executive order “restoring the rule of law, federalism, and economic growth by reviewing the 'Water of the United States.'” A welcome reprieve for a relatively new facility that has already invested much in the town. However,  Professor Jeffery Thaler of the University of Maine Law School succinctly writes, “Since WOTUS was a final rule published in the Federal Register, it can only be repealed and replaced by a new rule that goes through full notice-and-comment rulemaking, not simply by a non-legislative guidance or policy statement [3].” In that vein the town along with several other municipalities in Maine are still filing a class-action law suit against the EPA.