CUMBERLAND Chebeague Island residents, angered by revaluation
that will double the taxes on many waterfront parcels, are talking
about seceding from the town of Cumberland. A group of island
residents will host a meeting this month that will feature representatives
from Long Island, which parted ways with the city of Portland
nine years ago.
The group is also working on other measures to win relief,
ranging from revamping the state constitution to helping individual
landowners challenge their assessments. Group leaders say the
upcoming session with Long Islanders is a chance to learn whether
secession is an option worth pursuing.
Chebeague has about 325 year- round residents and a summer
population of 1,700. It is larger, wealthier and more populated
than neighboring Long Island. But a state law implemented after
Long Island's split from Portland means that winning independence
would be much more difficult, said Ken Cole III, the lawyer who
helped Cumberland fend off the secession attempt of nearby Hope
Island, which is populated by two people.
Nevertheless, emotions on Chebeague are running high, says
Leon Hamilton, a member of the group called "Save Our Island."
Hamilton is a ferry captain for the Chebeague Island Transportation
Co. He says many of his passengers have been talking about secession
since a July 22 Town Council meeting.
At that meeting, the council endorsed the revaluation and
refused to allow the councilor from Chebeague, Donna Damon, to
present a videotape that showed what she believed was a misleading
sales pitch by the Massachusetts firm that did the revaluation.
Hamilton says many islanders were insulted by the council's
actions that night.
"We are sick and tired of being treated as second-class
citizens," he said. "We will do whatever we can to
save our island, this community. The town of Cumberland will
not step on us."
Islanders have talked about secession for years, but never
as seriously as now, says David Hill, also a member of Save Our
"It's something to be considered, not rushed into lightly,"
he said. "A lot of research has to be done as to what options
are available to us."
Save Our Island meets weekly at the island hall. The core
group includes about six people, each heading different committees
such as legislative, legal and communications. Its biweekly electronic
newsletter has more than 83 subscribers
The group believes that rising property taxes will force working
people off the island and destroy its year-round community, says
Pam Curran, one of the leaders. Several of the leaders own waterfront
A significant obstacle, Hill says, is that Chebeague also
would have to break with School Administrative District 51.
The school district spends a lot more tax money than Cumberland's
town government, he says, and Chebeague taxpayers won't get any
relief unless they also secede from the district.
Damon downplays talk of sec- ession.
"There is no organized secession movement," she
said. "People are looking for information. There may be
one in the future, but right now people are just curious about
how it is on Long Island."
She questions whether Chebeague residents have the energy
and will to run their own government and sustain it.
"My concern is, who will do the work?" she asked.
"It's a lot different than starting a nonprofit organization.
It's not the hobby-of-the-month club. You're in it for the long
The value of Chebeague's real estate is $102 million - about
12 percent of Cumberland's total tax base. In comparison, Long
Island's real estate is worth $48 million.
Mark Greene, a leader of Long Island's secession movement,
lives on the eastern tip of Long Island, less than a mile away
from Chebeague. Greene plans to travel to Chebeague on his 17-foot
Boston whaler to attend the meeting, tentatively scheduled for
Chebeague has enough people and resources to be on its own,
"This is a very personal thing that each community has
to grapple with itself," he said. "This is totally
a local decision. Nobody from the outside can tell you it's a
good or bad idea."
This would not be the first secession attempt by Chebeague.
In 1834, upset with a new town hall location that was seen as
too far inland, residents from Chebeague and the Foreside introduced
a motion to secede at their town meeting. They lost, 94 to 49.
Cumberland Town Council Chairman Jeff Porter opposes secession
and says Chebeague is an important part of the town's history
and identity. Because Chebeague has a seat on the council, islanders
always have the opportunity to make the council aware of issues
that are important to them, he says.
"I would hate to see them leave," he said. "It's
a mistake to break up the town."
Only the Legislature has the authority to split Chebeague
from Cumberland. In the past, seces- sionists appealed directly
to the Legislature for independence. But weary of divisive secession
bills, the Legislature four years ago created a law that requires
municipalities to hold a public hearing and then an election.
Afterward, if officials refuse to support secession, the town
and secession leaders must hire a mediator and try to work out
If no agreement is reached after six months, secessionists
are then allowed to appeal to the Legislature. Cole, the attorney,
says he doubts the Legislature will approve a secession bill
after such a process.
The mediator working with Cumberland and Hope Island's residents
concluded in June that the two sides could not reach agreement.
The issue has yet to be taken to the Legislature.
Staff Writer Tom Bell may be reached at 791-6369 or at: