Portland seeks to avert Peaks Island secession

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PORTLAND (AP) – Following the secession of Chebeague Island from the town of Cumberland, Portland officials are developing a proposal in hopes of convincing Peaks Island residents not to take the same path.

The city proposal includes a wide range of ideas, such as simulcasting City Council meetings for islanders, promoting affordable housing on the island and using tax dollars to subsidize ferry service and reduce fares.

“These are just some creative solutions to help maintain a diverse community on the island,” said Thomas Fortier, Portland’s island liaison. “It has been my contention all along that we need to focus on solutions, not secession.”

But secession advocates say it’s not enough.

Members of the Peaks Island Independence Committee say they will continue to press for a June 13 island referendum on the secession question.

The independence committee gathered 600 signatures of registered island voters to force a public hearing on secession for the island, which has a year-round population of 900 that swells to more than 5,000 in the summer.

Secession supporters stung by a recent property revaluation that doubled and tripled taxes for some island residents want to take charge of their future instead of leaving it to city officials two miles away on the mainland.

Michael Richards, moderator of the secession group, said Portland’s efforts to mollify islanders are too little, too late. “They are half-measures designed to convince some islanders to vote against secession,” he said.

Ultimately, the Legislature would have the final say.

Portland last faced the question of Peaks Island’s secession 11 years ago, when islanders’ efforts to leave failed by one vote in the Maine Senate.

Long Island seceded from the city 13 years ago. Chebeague won its independence from Cumberland last week when Gov. John Baldacci signed a bill approved by lawmakers.

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