Wednesday, August 24, 2005
Secession by Chebeague a matter to be taken seriously
Make no mistake, residents of Chebeague Island are serious about secession from the town of Cumberland. The process has been simmering for several months, but a public hearing is now officially scheduled, prompted by a petition signed by 273 islanders - representing more than 80 percent of Chebeague's registered voters.
Many islanders say they are interested in secession as a last-ditch effort to save their unique culture, of which their small island school is a big part.
Others say they hope that secession would give them local control over property taxes, which have been rapidly escalating on a par with the value of waterfront properties in Maine.
At stake is a considerable amount of property tax revenue for Cumberland and School Administrative District 51. Neither can be reasonably expected to take a hit financially. One possible solution would be for the newly formed town of Chebeague Island to agree to stay in SAD 51 so long as its school is maintained. That would achieve independence for the island without harming taxpayers on the mainland.
A Cumberland Town Council vote is the next step in the process. People on both sides admit the two entities have resembled distant relatives for some 184 years. Putting aside the financial picture, which is still unsettled, Cumberland officials should recognize that Chebeague Island is an opportunity and an asset to the town.
Chebeague has preserved much of what Cumberland has lost - the slower pace and small-town feel. A better alliance between the island school and mainland schools - from field trips to teacher exchange programs - could be a start toward improved relations.
Island communities are part of Maine's heritage. Cumberland
officials should recognize that Chebeague offers a unique historical
and cultural perspective and make a serious effort to address
the concerns of the islanders.