ednesday, November 9, 2005

Islanders approve secession plan

By TESS NACELEWICZ, Portland Press Herald Writer

Copyright © 2005 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.


Staff photo by John Ewing
One of Chebeague Island's youngest residents, 2-month-old MacKenzie Brewer, rests outside a voting booth Tuesday while her mother, Pamela, votes at the Community Center. Islanders approved a measure to secede from Cumberland.

Staff photo by John Ewing
One of Chebeague Island's oldest residents, Bertha Gray, 99, came to the Community Center to vote on secession Tuesday. The island has been part of Cumberland for 184 years.

Staff photo by John Ewing
Jamie Calthorpe's children, David, 1, and Jenna, 2, wait as she votes at the Chebeague Island Community Center on Tuesday.



Chebeague Island voters sent a strong message to Cumberland on Tuesday, saying by a 6-to-1 ratio that they want to cut their 184-year-old ties with the town.

However, 53 percent of mainland Cumberland voters cast ballots against the secession plan.

Under state law, only the island's vote carries weight in the secession process. However, mainlanders' vote against secession may influence the Cumberland Town Council when it takes a vote on the issue.

The tally on the largest non-bridged island on Casco Bay was 246 votes, 86 percent, in favor and 41 votes, 14 percent, opposed.

About 84 percent of the island's 341 registered votes turned out to vote.

"This is a landslide for the island," said David Hill, an island resident who is a spokesman for the secession movement. "Now the real work begins."

Tuesday's secession vote was only advisory, one step in the secession process.

After the council votes on the issue, the final vote on whether Chebeague becomes its own town will rest with the Legislature.

The tally on the mainland was 1,507 votes, 53 percent, against the island's leaving and 1,357 votes, 47 percent, in favor of letting the island go.

Turnout on the issue was 2,864, about 53 percent of the town's 5,426 registered voters.

Hill said islanders had hoped for mainlanders' support on the issue. The vote against secession, he said, "is going to make it a little more difficult, but it's not insurmountable."

Town Manager William Shane said the town will work with islanders to seek a resolution that is fair to the town and the island.

The town and the island must negotiate on how to share debts and assets.

Town Council Chairman William Stiles, who opposes secession, said the mainland vote likely will influence how The Council votes on the issue.

Also, he said, "I would think it influences how the Legislature reacts."

Islanders began their movement for self-government this spring, fearing that a proposal by the Cumberland-North Yarmouth school district to downsize their elementary school might lead to its closing and the demise of their year-round community of about 350 people. Islanders want to separate from the school district if they secede.

Some councilors are concerned about the financial impact of secession. The town estimates it could add 17 cents to 90 cents to Cumberland's property-tax rate of $18.80 per $1,000 of valuation.

Islanders don't expect their taxes to increase because their projected town budget is about $2.1 million, the amount they pay now in taxes to Cumberland.

Some councilors also oppose Chebeague's proposal to take 16 other small islands or parts of islands with it.

If the council votes against secession, the matter will go to mediation for as long as six months.

The Legislature has the final vote on the issue.

Staff Writer Tess Nacelewicz can be contacted at 791-6367 or at: