Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Quick vote seen as step against secession

By TESS NACELEWICZ, Portland Press Herald Writer

Copyright © 2005 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.

Less than a month after 86 percent of Chebeague Island voters said they want to secede from Cumberland, the Town Council is expected to vote on the issue.

Predictions are that the council's vote on Nov. 28 will go against secession.

Islanders had hoped that the council's vote wouldn't come so soon. They wanted to negotiate with officials about dividing up town debts and assets before the council made a decision.

However, the council voted 5-2 on Monday to take a vote on secession in less than two weeks, before any negotiations are likely to take place.

And councilors predict the vote will be against the island's leaving - at least in part because they won't have enough information about the fiscal impact of secession to do anything but vote "no."

A "no" vote wouldn't derail the secession process because permission for a territory to secede ultimately comes from the Legislature. Also, town councilors say they still plan to negotiate with islanders, and can take another vote if negotiations work out.

Councilor Donna Damon, an island resident, opposed a council vote before negotiations. She said Tuesday that it's an unnecessary "hurdle" in the process. Hers may be the only vote in favor of secession, she said.

Councilor Jeff Porter said that an early negative vote will put the town in a stronger negotiating position with the island.

"We're protecting the town of Cumberland by voting 'no,' " he said.

Porter said it would be unfair for mainland taxpayers to pay more in taxes to lessen the burden on island taxpayers, 60 percent of whom are seasonal residents, a number of them wealthy. Mainland voters voted 53 percent to 47 percent against secession on Nov. 8.

Porter said that if Chebeague wants to divorce the town, islanders will have to make "significant concessions."

Islanders who favor secession see it as a way to preserve their school and year-round community of 350 residents. They also want to take 16 small islands or parts of islands with them.

The town estimates that the loss of Chebeague's tax revenues 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 go up. They plan to run their new town on the $2.1 million in taxes they now pay to Cumberland.

But Damon said that no one will know the true fiscal impact until negotiations take place. "There could be no tax impact (on mainlanders)," she said. If negotiations fail, mediation would take place.

Councilor Stephen Moriarty and Damon voted against holding the vote on Nov. 28.

Moriarty said that if the council votes "yes" now, the matter will go straight to the Legislature. But he and other councilors said on Tuesday that no one should read too much into a negative vote.

"It's not a final pronouncement on the pros and cons of secession," Moriarty said.

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