Sunday, November 13, 2005

Chebeague vote inspires other secessionists

By TESS NACELEWICZ, Portland Press Herald Writer

Copyright © 2005 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.

PEAKS ISLAND - Howard Pedlikin said he and his wife searched up and down the Maine coast before settling down on Peaks Island. The Pedlikins, from Massachusetts, at first vacationed in the house they bought here seven years ago, then moved to the island permanently four years later.

"It's a beautiful island," Pedlikin, 66, a retired engineering project manager, said last week as he sat on a wooden bench near the ferry dock on a crisp, bright fall day. In front of him, Casco Bay danced and sparkled, and the breeze ruffled the yellow and red leaves still clinging to trees on the shore.

Now the Pedlikins and other islanders are considering a move that they think would make island life even better: seceding from the city of Portland. Islanders say Portland taxes are too high, and they believe they can govern themselves more effectively and economically.

And an overwhelming vote last week by Chebeague Island residents in favor of breaking away from the town of Cumberland has given the Peaks Island secession movement even more impetus, islanders say.

"We are very encouraged by what Chebeague has done," said Pedlikin, a member of the Island Independence Committee. The group of about 40 or 50 islanders is collecting signatures calling for Portland to hold a formal public hearing on secession, and researching what separation would mean for the island in terms of education, public works, public safety and other issues.

Another islander, Paul Andersen, said he believes Chebeague's vote will "raise awareness of the (secession) issue, not on the island because islanders are very aware of it, but in the city of Portland."

Andersen, 37, a cook at an inn on the island and a computer consultant, moved to Peaks from California nearly two years ago for the quality of life. He said with the Chebeague vote, "the city mayor and the City Council may take our effort seriously."

However, Portland Mayor Jill Duson said she and the council already are paying serious attention to the secession movement.

"Secession is a serious matter, one that affects all of us in Portland," said Duson in a letter sent to neighborhoods throughout the city late last week. Duson urged them to attend an informational City Council meeting at 7:30 p.m. Monday at the Peaks Island Elementary School.

Taxes, services and a desire for self-governance have been constant concerns for Casco Bay islands for more than a decade.

For example, Long Island residents, unhappy about a 1991 property tax revaluation, successfully broke away from Portland 12 years ago.

Peaks tried to follow suit in 1995 and nearly succeeded, losing its bid for independence by just one vote in the Maine Senate.

Now Chebeague Island has initiated the process to separate from Cumberland, and Cliff Island residents are researching whether secession from Portland would be the right course for them.

Duson said she opposes secession but wants a "respectful conversation" on the issue to occur. And she said she wants both islanders and mainland residents to have as much information as possible, so that people "can make an informed choice about where their destiny is."

At the workshop on Monday, the city will give details on the impact it says separation will have on Portland and Peaks in terms of city services and finances.

For example, the city estimates the loss of the $4.1 million in taxes that Peaks currently pays to Portland could add 41 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to a homeowner's tax bill.

Portland also notes that it is spending more than $2.2 million in services to the island this year, with $530,000 going to the island elementary school and $515,000 to pay for police coverage on the island.

But islanders believe they could run their new town on the amount they're now paying in taxes, and possibly less.

Monday's meeting will be the second workshop on secession the council has held. One in September focused on details of the multi-step process by a which a territory may seek to withdraw from a municipality under state law.


Chebeague Island, which has a year-round population of about 350 residents, is further along in that process than Peaks, where more than 900 people live year round. Cliff, which has about 60 permanent residents, has not yet begun to collect signatures on the issue.

A majority of Chebeague islanders this summer signed a petition to require the Cumberland Town Council to hold a public hearing on secession, which took place in September. Islanders took an advisory vote on the issue last Tuesday and 86 percent of voters said they want to break their 184-year-old ties with Cumberland. The vote was 246 to 41.

The matter now goes to the Town Council for a vote. If the council decides against secession, mediation lasting as long as six months would follow. Either way the council votes, the Legislature ultimately must give permission for a territory to secede.

By contrast, residents of Peaks Island were still gathering signatures last week to seek a public hearing. The workshops by the City Council do not count as the formal public hearing that launches the secession process.

Portland City Clerk Linda Cohen said Peaks has 888 registered voters.

Islanders need more than 50 percent of the registered voters to sign the petition calling for the public hearing. They set a goal of 600 signatures this summer and have more than 590, said Judy Piawlock, 65, treasurer of the Island Independence Committee.

A resident of the island for 19 years, Piawlock criticized as wasteful some of the services Portland has provided Peaks islanders, such as granite curbing and a new fire truck instead of a used one. She said Peaks islanders could address their own needs more economically. "We are small-town rural," she said.

Although more than enough signatures have been collected, Michael Richards, moderator of the committee, said Peaks is not ready to submit the petitions to the City Council and probably won't do so until early next year.

Richards, an attorney who moved to Peaks from Portland 18 years ago, said islanders want to make sure they gather as much information as possible about the fiscal and other impacts of secession before holding the public hearing. "A step of this magnitude requires circumspection," he said.

He said islanders are considering secession not just because of taxes but because they want control over their school, public works and public safety. "We suggest that decisions about Peaks Island should be made on Peaks Island by Peaks islanders," Richards said.


Cliff islanders cite similar reasons - as well as the small island's remote location from Portland - for considering secession. While it takes 20 minutes by ferry to get to Peaks, the trip to Cliff is 1 1/2 hours.

Cliff islander Leo Carter said the long trip to town "makes it difficult for citizens here to participate in the political process." Carter, 65, and his wife are former summer residents who in 1997 moved to Cliff permanently from Massachusetts, where he worked as a chemical engineer.

A Cliff Island Research Committee has formed and is meeting weekly to gather information about how secession could impact the island, said Carter, the group's treasurer. Members of the group plan to attend the City Council workshop Monday on Peaks, he said.

If secession seems in the island's interest, islanders could start circulating a petition seeking a public hearing on separation in the spring, he said.

Carter said he was surprised such a high number of Chebeague voters supported secession on Election Day. If Cliff Island residents end up voting on the issue, he said, "I think (the vote) might be closer here."

Discussing secession is a useful exercise for an island, Carter said. "It's a very worthwhile process even if we should decide not to secede, just to go over what the city does for us and what it would take for us to do for ourselves," he said.

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


Reader Comments
What are the implications of islands seceding from their municipalities?
1-8 of 8 comments:

Jenny of Peaks Island, ME
Nov 13, 2005 9:40 PM
I like the idea that more people can be involved in government. No matter how carefully and wisely we use resources on Peaks Island, the City never reduces our taxes-- they collect as much as they can, and the waste it. We need more people running for city council (think how much easier it will be not to have to lobby the islands for votes). More people need to be involved, resources need to be conserved, and the city of Portland does not share the resource sparing (conservative) style of the islands.

Mike Richards of Peaks Island, ME
Nov 13, 2005 6:12 PM
Your article seemed intended to show self-determination of the islands in a bad light. First, your headline suggests that Chebeague is encouraging other islands to secede, when in fact Peaks tried before to secede and has again moved independently toward self-government. Second, you focus on how long the people you interviewed lived on the island, and where they came from before, which generated negative comments about them. The Peaks Island Independence Committee includes native islanders, too, who are being forced from their ancenstral homes by the City's tax and spend decisions.
The question you and others should ask is, "Why do the islands feel secession is necessary?" The answer is twofold: (1) the City changed the tax structure to decrease the tax burden on businesses and transfer the burden to homeowners, which is falling most heavily on the islanders, who are now required to pay much more in taxes than they receive in services; and (2) the islanders have unique expenses which the City refuses to pay.
The islanders, many of whom are poor and elderly, simply cannot afford to subsidize the mainlanders. If the islands secede, the mainlanders will pay their own way, and the islanders will be able to direct their taxes to solve their own special problems. That's only fair, and it's their most fundamental constitutional right. I think we'd all be better off if everyone excercised more self-control.

Cynthia Pedlikin of Peaks Island, ME
Nov 13, 2005 5:20 PM
I just want to clarify that I was born in Portland Maine. I spent most of my formative years growing up in this city which I have always loved. We are not Massachusetts people who have come to Maine to make big changes. My Husband retired after 22 years in the United States Air Force. Wherever we were stationed we were citizens of that area. The Air Force is one employer that does not ask you where you want to live. We still wanted to retire to Maine, a state where we spent as much time as possible druing his career.

At this point many of us are looking at all the information about secession and just what it means to islanders. We are trying our hardest to help our neighbors to remain on Peaks by assisting them with their tax increases.

It is not a question of changing the island but rather a question of self-governance.

jt of windham, me
Nov 13, 2005 2:51 PM
As much as I can agree with the comments already posted, I also believe in free choice. If a majority of the registered voters on any island,
regardless of where they are from originally, want to secede, the will of those voters should be done.

I agree that if you move to an area, island or not, that you move there for what it has to offer, and shouldn't want radical changes. Living in a rural community means volunteer fire and rescue departments. You should be aware of that before you purchase property, and accept it.

However, islanders do frequently get short changed in the services they receive. Frye Island is a perfect case in point. Before seccesion, they paid taxes to Standish. But the fire and rescue protection came from Raymond. Being a summer community, they had no chidren in the school system, but when they seceded, they
were forced to continue to pay gthe school portion of their taxes to Standish.

That's just plain greed on the part of th municipality.

ewv of Tresoctt, ME
Nov 13, 2005 12:40 PM
The islanders are clearly being abused by a tax scheme that imposes the escalating costs of city government primarily on owners of land: Taxes are arbitrarily and disproportionately imposed on island property owners in accordance with the value of the land in comparison with city lots rather than the costs of "services".

This exploitation is a direct result of Maine state tax policy made in Augusta, not "people from away". The high tax exploitation is becoming worse in accordance with recent increases in land value.

The island residents have every right to vote to establish their own independence from a city in which they have little in common, to control their own affairs, and to escape the escalating city tax looting. This is a common problem for the islands. Long Island residents successfully escaped from the city of Portland 12 years ago and Chebeague has the same right.

beal of boston, ma
Nov 13, 2005 11:43 AM
This article says it all. Someone from away moves to an island, stays a few years and decides to change 200 years of history. This is the same thing you would see in the Biddeford secessionist movements.

I hope any Portland-Cumberland island secession bill dies in committee as the Biddeford ones did last decade.

max thomas of falmouth, me
Nov 13, 2005 7:59 AM
It seems that our former massachusetts residents should go back to their fair State and stop trying to change our community. The City of Portland and it's beautiful island communities are just fine the way they are.

Larry of Portland, ME
Nov 13, 2005 7:23 AM
I think the problem startes when people move to an Island like Peaks to get certain services and live a certain way. Afte living there a while, they decide to change what it is they moved there for.
What is going to stop Deering from leaving because they don't like the way things are going. Who stops any section of any town leaving. Springvale from Sanford? You moved to Portland and you need to start working with the sytem, not circumventing it.
You live on an island and have 24 hour seven days a week coverage from Police/Fire/Medical. Public works does everything including curbside pickup with local schools and library. You wanted a public restroom installed and the city gave it to you. You may talk about curbing and how it is a waste, but I heard many vocal people from Peaks talking about how they don't even have curbs on busy streets. One man told me he gets no services for his taxes....What don't you get? I am confused. I think you need to work on what messages get sent from Peaks to the City Council. Maybe your message didn't get sent, but many are, and they are being listened to.
Just my opinion from my talking to poeple out on Peaks.