MADISON — The town of Madison has filed a lawsuit against the owners of the community’s former landmark paper mill, ratcheting up a dispute over property values and access to assessment information.

At stake are thousands of dollars in property taxes as the town struggles in the wake of the mill’s 2016 closure and the loss of more than 200 jobs in this town of about 4,800 people.

The town says it is taking owners of the shuttered Madison Paper Industries to court to allow access by town officials and their attorneys to information, which currently is confidential, about the town’s assessment of the mill’s real estate and personal property.

Under Maine law, only the town’s assessor and the state tax assessor – not the town manager or the selectmen – are allowed to see the tax assessments if the company does not want others to see the information, according to court documents.

Any violation of that state statute would be a Class E misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in county jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

Complicating the matter is the fact that the Board of Assessors – the only municipal partner allowed to see MPI’s valuations – is composed of the same people who sit on the Board of Selectmen.

Madison voters in February 2015 voted to abolish the Board of Assessors and transfer its duties to the Board of Selectmen. That decision allows selectmen, who are charged with creating a municipal budget, access to information that will inform them better in creating a budget. However, according to a 2014 Maine law, assessors are required to maintain confidentiality about assessments for a major taxpayer requesting a change in valuation.

The town, through its attorney, David Silk of the Portland law firm Curtis Thaxter, is seeking to make those documents available to town officials so they can mount a challenge to MPI’s appeal of taxes for 2016-17.

“What the town is trying to do with this lawsuit is find a way so that the other folks besides the Board of Assessors can look at this information,” Silk said. “The Board of Assessors believe that the information is relevant to the valuation of the mill.”

The object of the filing in Somerset County Superior Court is to have a judge declare that the confidential information is no longer “proprietary” information because Madison Paper “appears to no longer be in business,” according to court documents.

Madison Paper Industries closed in May 2016, putting about 215 people out of work. The mill, a producer of super-calendared paper used for magazine publishing, had been in Madison since 1978 and was producing about 195,000 tons of paper annually.

Silk recently filed a motion for entry of an order to allow the documents to be viewed by town officials during a time when MPI is appealing its tax assessment before the state Board of Property Tax Review. The mill’s valuation has dropped by about $8 million since the closure was announced, and it is currently valued at $72,362,681.

The tax rate for 2016 was estimated to be $21 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, meaning the mill owes about $1.5 million in property taxes to the town.

Madison Town Manager Tim Curtis did not return calls for comment.

Doug Harlow can be contacted at 612-2367 or at:

[email protected];