PORTLAND — The Cumberland County Board of Commissioners last week unanimously approved the creation of two additional districts, including one that combines a Portland neighborhood with several suburban communities.
Residents in the new districts will vote for their respective commissioners in November.
The new districts increase the number of commissioners from three to five, and reassigns the district numbers of existing commissioners.
The Cumberland County Charter adopted by voters and signed by former Gov. John Baldacci last November requires the two yet-to-be elected commissioners to “draw lots to determine the length of their original term.”
One representative will serve a one-year term, while the other will serve a three year term. A full term for a county commissioner, who makes $9,000 a year, is four years.
County Manager Peter Crichton said he believes the additional $18,000 in the budget is worth the investment.
“The greater representation will add a great deal of value to what we’re doing as a county government,” Crichton said. “Obviously, over 60 percent of the voters think so.”
Claude Morgan is the chairman of the Cumberland County Charter Commission, which crafted the new districts. He said a primary concern was not to split communities, while trying to maintain geographical ties.
“We all felt very strongly that lines, divisions and voting blocks shouldn’t run down the middle of Main Street or separate the main house from the barn,” he said. “We just wanted to make it simple.”
Morgan said a state statute requires the size of each district to be within 5 percent of each other. Each district represents about 55,000 people, as opposed to the old districts, which represented between 86,400 and 90,200 people.
“Portland was too large,” Morgan said of the city of about 63,000. “Something had to give.”
District 5 is mostly made up of Portland, with the exception of the North Deering neighborhood. Precinct 5-2 has been included in District 4, which includes South Portland, Westbrook and Cape Elizabeth.
County Commissioner James Cloutier, who represents Portland, said it wasn’t his preference to split Portland, but it had to be done.
“It seems like the Charter Commission did a good job,” Cloutier said.
But those involved in the process indicated that some rural communities were concerned about being included with larger urban areas.
One such area is District 1, which includes large communities like Scarborough (population 19,239) and Gorham (15,709) along with smaller communities like Baldwin (1,4018) and Sebago (1,564).
But Morgan believes the new districts strengthen voice of rural communities.
“The representation just went from being Portland-centric to, you might say, rural-centric,” he said. “I think we have built in this reapportionment an adjustment to some historic inequity.”
He noted District 3, consisting of Brunswick, Freeport, Gray, Harpswell, North Yarmouth, Pownal and New Gloucester.
“It has a regional feel in and of itself,” he said.
Commissioner Richard Feeney, a South Portland resident who now represents District 4, said that a good candidate, whether they’re from a rural or urban area, will have their chance to make their case to voters.
Feeney pointed to Susan Witonis’ win in District 3 last year over incumbent Malory Shaughnessy. Witonis, of Casco, now represents District 2, which includes Cumberland, Chebeague Island, Falmouth, Long Island and Yarmouth.
Morgan said the Charter Commission worked hard to keep politics out of the conversation.
“That’s gerrymandering and that’s not at all where we were coming from,” he said. “I’m feeling terrific about the end product. It’s a better end result than I was anticipating.”
Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or firstname.lastname@example.org
A map of new Cumberland County districts.
District 1 (population: 55,882): Baldwin, Bridgton, Gorham, Harrison, Scarborough, Sebago and Standish.
District 2 (population: 56,228): Casco, Chebeague Island, Cumberland, Falmouth, Frye Island, Long Island, Naples, Raymond, Windham and Yarmouth.
District 3 (population: 54,021): Brunswick, Freeport, Gray, Harpswell, New Gloucester and North Yarmouth.
District 4 (population: 56,464): Cape Elizabeth, Portland (Precinct 5-2, North Deering), South Portland and Westbrook.
District 5 (population: 55,964): Portland (without North Deering).