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Legislative hearing slated for Peaks Island secession bill

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Legislative hearing slated for Peaks Island secession bill

PORTLAND — A legislative subcommittee will hold a public hearing on Monday, April 11, on a bill that would allow Peaks Island residents to vote on seceding from the city.

The Joint Standing Committee on State and Local Government has scheduled the hearing for 10 a.m. in Room 214 of the Cross Building in Augusta.

LD 1079 would allow Peaks Island residents to essentially pick up where a previously unsuccessful secession effort left off in 2007.

If the bill is approved, residents of Peaks Island, House Island, Pumpkin Knob and Catnip Island would vote on secession on Jan. 10, 2012. If residents approve the measure, the islands and the surrounding waters would become independent on July 1, 2012.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Windol Weaver, R-York, sponsored the measure after Portland's representatives refused. Weaver, who was on the State and Local Government Committee in 2007, has said he feels islanders didn't get a fair hearing last time.

During the last attempt, islanders followed the lengthy secession process outlined by state law, but never voted because the bill died in committee largely along a party-line vote, with all but one Republican in support and one Democrat opposed.

Although the secession bill failed, the Legislature called for the creation of the Peaks Island Council to advocate for island issues. The council, however, plays an advisory role to the Portland City Council and has no rule-making authority.

Sid Gerard, a member of the pro-secession Island Independence Committee, said there is no need to start the process over, since he believes the island council was a failed experiment.

"We tried for three years with the council," Gerard said. "It didn't work."

The council all but dissolved last year, when members, citing their frustration with the city, resigned or did not seek re-election. The council survived when three members were elected in November as write-ins, with two or three votes each.

The city, which opposes secession, recently created a page on its website devoted to Peaks Island. The page contains budget information, among other items.

According to the city manager's office, the city in fiscal 2011 has about $5.5 million in property tax revenue from Peaks Island, House Island and Pumpkin's Knob, and will deliver nearly $4.1 million in services.

Gerard said the IIC will use the city's budget numbers at the upcoming hearing, even though it disagrees with them.

"(We) felt that because of people always accusing us of creating our own numbers to make it come out the way we want, we have elected to use the city's numbers and go from there," he said.

Gerard said the numbers nonetheless prove that islanders are contributing more than they're getting in services.

But Peaks Island resident and secession opponent Lisa Penalver said islanders should follow the statutory process for secession, because in four years things have changed, including the population of the island.

"There shouldn't even be a bill in the Legislature because the conversation has not occurred on the island," Penalver said. "This is all backwards."

Penalver has also criticized a provision in the bill that would allow the IIC to designate a representative to negotiate debts with the city.

Penalver, who helped organize a group called the Peaks Alliance, which opposes the secession effort, said she expects a big turnout at the hearing. She encouraged mainland residents in Portland to express their opinions, too.

"If Portland loses Peaks Island, the loss of revenue is going to be felt in Portland," she said.

Gerard, however, said he will argue that islanders should finally be afforded the opportunity to formally vote on secession.

"If they don't give us a vote as a people, it's going to come back, (but) not be the same people," Gerard said.

A work session is expected to be scheduled before the committee makes a recommendation. Any bill allowing secession needs the approval of the full Legislature, the governor and island residents.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @randybillings.