ROCKLAND (AP) – Knox County officials say they are prepared to embrace Islesboro if it decides to secede from Waldo County and shift its moorings to the south.

Three Islesboro selectmen told Knox County commissioners Tuesday that they are taking the first steps toward secession, but want to be sure that Knox County would at least consider accepting the island town.

“We don’t want to embark on this if we’re not wanted,” Selectman Pete Anderson said.

A move to Knox County would mean a $200,000 reduction in Islesboro’s county tax, which now totals more than $530,000 annually, according to selectmen.

Islesboro, with a population of about 600, has the second-highest real estate value among Waldo County’s 26 towns. The town has been trying to get families to settle year-round but maintains t hat the high property tax rate has been a disincentive.

“Our existence as a viable community is at risk,” Selectman David Pendleton said.

Islesboro would be the fifth- or sixth-highest taxpaying town in Knox County. Its state valuation, estimated at about $280 million, would be comparable to that of Vinalhaven, which is estimated at $308 million, Anderson said.

Beyond money issues, Anderson said that being the only island community in Waldo County leaves Islesboro at a disadvantage. “It doesn’t give us much of a voice,” he said.

By contrast, Knox County has four island towns with year-round populations: Vinalhaven, North Haven, Matinicus and Isle au Haut.

Selectmen said the secession process is unclear, but they believe the question would have to be approved in a town referendum and residents of Knox County would then have to vote to accept the town into the fold. Legislative approval also would be required.

Selectmen said the only record they have found of one town leaving one county for another is the move by Otisfield from Cumberland County to Oxford County in protest of having to pay for the Cumberland County Civic Center. There was no referendum on the question in Cumberland County, the selectmen said.

But Rep. Walter Ash, D-Belfast, and Sen. Carol Weston, R-Montville, whose districts include Islesboro, have said they believe a referendum in Waldo County would be required.

The Knox County commissioners said their government would help Islesboro in its effort to secede.

“I would welcome you with open arms,” Commissioner Lawrence Nash said.

AP-ES-01-14-04 1201EST

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