Newspaper fails to resolve Brunswick tax delinquency

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BRUNSWICK — Town officials say they are increasingly frustrated by the failure of the owners of the Times Record to keep their promises to pay overdue town taxes.

As of early March, Brunswick Publishing owes the town more than $265,000 – up from the $152,000 in unpaid taxes and interest the company owed last summer, and more than any other tax delinquent in town.

“That tax money would have been particularly useful in this budget year,” Town Council Chairman Joanne King said.

Because the company missed an August 2011 deadline to pay its 2010 real estate taxes in full, the town has placed a lien on the newspaper’s building at 3 Business Parkway. That lien allows the town to foreclose on the property if the company has still not paid by February 2013.

Until then, there’s little the town can do.

“You could go to court,” said John Eldridge, Brunswick’s finance director. “But again, I think everyone’s pretty comfortable with the real estate lien. That’s a very solid enforcement mechanism for us because it puts us ahead of most of the other creditors and it’s an automatic process.”

The company also has yet to pay the first half of its 2011 real estate taxes, which were due last October, and its 2010 and 2011 personal property taxes. It also still owes about $4,600 on personal property taxes from 2009.

Alliance Press, the commercial printing arm of the company, also hasn’t paid its 2010 or 2011 personal property taxes, and still has a balance of $950 on personal property taxes from 2009. As a result, the town has a lien on the company’s business equipment, including the printing press.

Town Manager Gary Brown said the town would rather not foreclose on the Times Record’s printing equipment because it would put the company out of business, further limiting its ability to repay the town.

“To take away their means of staying in business would be self-defeating,” Brown said.

The last time the newspaper made a payment was last August, when Publisher Chris Miles sent the tax office about $18,500. In an email to Brown on Aug. 8, Miles said he expected to pay down the balance of the unpaid taxes in weekly installments.

But as of early this week, no other payments have been received. The failure to pay led one town official to suggest the paper was paying “weakly,” instead of weekly.

Repeated inquiries by town councilors into the Times Record’s taxes prompted Brown to update the council on March 5, when he expressed his frustration over the situation.

“I did express to (Miles) some of the frustration I’ve had in being led to believe that payments were going to be made and having nothing happen,” he said at the meeting.

Brown also said the town is not giving the newspaper preferential treatment.

“We’re not treating them any better, but we’re not treating them any worse” than other delinquent taxpayers, he said.

Brown said Miles has recently promised to send monthly updates on the company’s financial situation and intends to pay all the back taxes by June of this year. The first update was supposed to have arrived on Thursday, March 15.

In addition, Brown assured councilors that the Times Record has not been receiving the $10,000 refund on its taxes that it is eligible for as part of a tax increment financing agreement. But there is no clause in the TIF that prohibits the tax refund in the event the newspaper pays late.

Brunswick Publishing is owned by Pennsylvania-based Sample News Group, which also owns the daily Journal Tribune in Biddeford and Mainely Media, publisher of the South Portland Sentry, Scarborough Leader and weekly publications in York County.

Miles did not respond to questions submitted to him this week via email.

Emily Guerin can be reached at 781-3661 ext.123 or [email protected]t. Follow her on Twitter: @guerinemily.