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J.R. Simplot Sticks Fort Fairfield Taxpayers With $30K Cleaning Bill

By: David Deschesne

Fort Fairfield Journal, April 4, 2012

Recently, J.R. Simplot, owner of Atlantic Custom Processors on the South Caribou Road (formerly Interstate Foods and A&P Plant) opted to close their facility and tear the entire building complex down in order to avoid paying the $100,000 per year in taxes it generated for the town of Fort Fairfield. Rather than tear down the building, town manager, Dan Foster suggested they donate the building complex to the town so it could be preserved for future use by another developer, or for the town's use. However, Simplot chose not to donate the buildings for fear of a competitor moving into them and proceeded with tearing the buildings and the relatively new three-story freezer unit down to ground level.

While most of the material from the demolition is able to be recycled, 800 tons of rubbish did get deposited at Tri-Community landfill, which cost the taxpayers of Fort Fairfield $32,784.00 - a "double-whammy" considering the tax base for that property has now been reduced by nearly $100,000.

Tri-Community landfill is a collaboration between the towns of Fort Fairfield, Caribou and Limestone that enables those municipalities to provide a very cost-effective waste disposal service to the taxpayers in their communities. By owning the landfill together, the taxpayers in those communities enjoy a very low tipping fee of $40.98 per ton of waste. The money to pay the fees is collected from local property taxes then homeowners may either haul their own trash, or pay a trash hauling service at their own expense.

Granted, Simplot is a taxpayer in Fort Fairfield and its taxes do go to support the landfill too, but the destruction of their building resulted in a reduction of over $100,000 in tax revenue to Fort Fairfield and ,under these circumstances, disposing of large amounts of demolition debris simply for the purposes of avoiding paying property taxes is not in the spirit of what Tri-Community Landfill was set up for and the Fort Fairfield town council recently approved an ordinance that would change the permit process for demolition of large buildings that would generate considerable waste and cost to the town in the future.

Foster sent a letter and invoice to J.R. Simplot's corporate headquarters requesting payment of those fees to which they responded they would not be paying. Foster acknowledges that as a taxpayer Simplot is not legally required to pay the disposal fees. "We're looking at this as a moral obligation, not a legal obligation," said Foster. "Obviously they did not respond that way. My feeling is if Simplot is looking to leave the town of Fort Fairfield in good standing they need to take care of this. We can't legally force them to. This is not an obligation they should be putting on the citizens in Fort Fairfield when they purposefully tore down a perfectly good structure just to prevent someone else from using it and to avoid paying taxes. That's not what our program for handling operational waste was designed for. We just did not have something in our ordinance to preclude them from doing it."

The new ordinance approved by the town council attempts to address these types of excessive waste disposal fees in future demolition projects. "This is not to penalize anybody. What it does is gives the administrative body the opportunity to make sure that this ability to get rid of waste is done in the manner which the whole system was set up for. I know it sounds counterintuitive that we have to create a rule in case somebody wants to tear down something perfectly good that has value then turn around and charge somebody else to get rid of it which is really what this boils down to."

The new ordinance establishes a fee for large demolition projects that do create fees from Tri-Community Landfill. Those fees will be established by contacting Tri-Community Landfill and estimating the amount of their fees subject to amendment if the estimate is exceeded.

"The intent is if somebody's tearing down a perfectly good structure and they're going to lug it out to Tri-Community landfill they will get a demolition permit and pay the town the cost of dumping their debris to the landfill," explained Foster. "This will preclude this situation from happening again. We will probably never use this ordinance but in the very unlikely event that somebody chooses to do that at least we will have something in place to protect our taxpayers."

Simplot is currently maintaining ownership of the land the former plant was situated on and will be paying taxes of around $3500 per year.





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