AUGUSTA — Livermore Falls voters will have the opportunity to decide whether they want to leave Androscoggin County and join Franklin County, after a late vote in the Maine House of Representatives on Tuesday.
After a series of back-and-forth votes and a lengthy floor debate, the House voted to allow the town to vote on the issue. If the measure passes there, it would then go to voters in both Franklin and Androscoggin counties.
The 103-33 vote means the decision will next be in the hands of local voters.
"We will move forward and look at serious figures," Town Manager Kristal Flagg said Wednesday. "It’s too early to know exactly what the next steps are, but we will be moving forward."
Livermore Falls residents voted to let the town study whether the move will be in the town's best interest.
The Legislature's State and Local Government Committee approved the bill, LD 27, in March but several lawmakers objected to the bill during floor debates Tuesday.
Rep. Mike Carey, D-Lewiston, said if Livermore Falls leaves Androscoggin County it would hurt that county's tax base.
Carey also said the language of the bill requires a vote at town meeting and that vote and the votes in both counties would come at a cost to those local governments that is not being funded by the Legislature.
"This is not permissive," Carey said. "This will be a cost to voters in my county and that's why this is an (unfunded) mandate and that's why I'm going to vote against it."
But those who supported the bill said it had strong committee support and was moving forward without question until Tuesday.
Rep. Terry Hayes, D-Buckfield, said the bill only allows for Livermore Falls to decide if it wants to join Franklin County and doesn't require it. It also allows Androscoggin County voters a chance to reject the secession.
"We are not going to let this community move out of Androscoggin County without letting them have a vote on it," Hayes said. "But they can't have the votes on this unless we give them permission to do this."
Hayes was outraged when the measure first failed to reach the two-thirds requirement to be enacted as a mandate Tuesday. After the measure was passed by the Senate, it came back to the House for the second vote.
Hayes said earlier in the day that she believed the some House Democrats were withholding votes on the measure because they were upset with Republicans, including the bill's sponsor, Rep. Gary Knight, R-Livermore Falls.
And while lawmakers from Franklin and Oxford counties offered their support for allowing a local vote, even those from distant counties stood up for the measure.
Rep. Justin Chenette, D-Saco, a member of the State and Local Government Committee, said local voters deserved a chance to decide the issue.
"We don't live there," he said. "For some of us this is a community we have never even visited. Let them have a vote on their own future."