Cost of secession could be lower than predicted

By Jaime McLeod
CUMBERLAND ­ The potential tax impact of Chebeague Island secession on residents of mainland Cumberland and North Yarmouth may not be as bad as some have suggested.

That's according to Jim Rier, information systems team leader for the Maine Department of Education, who presented data during a workshop on the state's Essential Programs and Services funding formula Wednesday, Dec. 7 at Cumberland Town Hall.

Attendees included several Chebeague Island residents, including the five secession representatives, as well as school board members, North Yarmouth selectmen and, arriving late due to another town commitment, Cumberland Town Manager Bill Shane.

Rier said the fundamental purpose of the workshop was to get representatives from all bodies potentially impacted by secession to sit down together and look at some hard numbers.

Rier's calculations, based on the new EPS funding formula adopted two years ago, suggest Chebeague's secession would likely have little or no tax impact in Cumberland, and would cost North Yarmouth residents an additional $180,000 a year, at least initially.

That's because North Yarmouth would shift from comprising about 22 percent of the district to about 28 percent.

Rier said valuations in Cumberland are expected to rise faster than in North Yarmouth, however, so the percentages would probably shift back toward current levels over time, mitigating the long-term impact on North Yarmouth.

Though some variables remain, such as upcoming revaluations in both Cumberland and North Yarmouth and the outcome of negotiations between islanders and the town and school board, Rier said the numbers he presented are pretty close to what the actual impact will be.

"I happen to believe that the future is much more predictable than many people do, because I'm here doing this all time. Secession is one of the most predictable financial variables because the number of students is such a vital part of the equation," Rier said.

Rier's calculations assume Chebeague will sever itself from School Administrative District 51 and the island will not contract with the district to send its middle and high school students there, since several school board members have indicated an unwillingness to change the district's policy against accepting tuition students.

Several public officials who attended the workshop say they believe it was a valuable exercise.

Betts Gorsky, chairwoman of the SAD51 board, said she left feeling more optimistic about the potential impact of secession than she had in months.

"I think if the district and the representatives from Chebeague are creative, we can find a way to get the tax impact down to zero," Gorsky said.

School Board members last week accepted a list of guidelines for the secession negotiations process, one of which was no tax impact for either Cumberland or North Yarmouth.

"I don't think the taxpayers in either town should have to pick up the tax burden for Chebeague's secession," Gorsky said.

Jeanne Chadbourne, chairwoman of the North Yarmouth Board of Selectmen, said she was "pleasantly surprised" by Rier's presentation.

"It was not as bad as I thought it would be. All we had heard were rumors from people who are not in favor of the island doing what they want to do. They came in with really high numbers. I wasn't concerned, though. I was waiting to get numbers from a neutral party, and now we have," Chadbourne said.

Jim Moulton, another North Yarmouth selectman, and a former member of the School Board, said his best hope for mitigating the potential tax impact on North Yarmouth is for the board to keep all options open.

"If they want to stay in the district or they want to contract their students with the district, we should leave those avenues open for negotiation," Moulton said.

Jaime McLeod can be reached

at 781-3661 ext. 113

Featured Listing
Offered by:
Century 21 Advantage