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PEAKS SECESSION - City prepping to oppose it?

Portland city attorney Gary Wood issued a press release last night with the city's official response to the vote by Peaks Island residents that they wish to secede from the city of Portland and form their own community.

Interestingly, the press release included all of the changes made by city officials in the drafting of the response, which may offer clues to the city's possible response when the matter moves to the Legislature.

Among the deleted passages: "Peaks voters should be aware that in upcoming negotiations over the cost of secession and other issues, we have a duty to the rest of the city to negotiate and, if necessary, lobby in Augusta for the best terms for Portland's businesses and residents."

Another deleted portion suggests that the city will lobby in Augusta to outright oppose a secession bill in the Legislature.

The entire text of the release is below.



PRESS RELEASE/FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

                                                                                                      June 13, 2006

RE:     Peaks Island Secession

Tentative results from the secession vote on Peaks Island show that secession is likely to prevail.  They show 352 voters voting in favor of secession and 259 voters voting in opposition.  City Clerk, Linda Cohen, said that there are not enough absentee ballots or challenged ballots to overturn these tentative results but in keeping with state law, results will not be final until tomorrow.

In response to those results, Mayor James Cohen issued the following statement:

Today is a sad day for the City of Portland. Peaks Island and the City of Portland have been together for over 200 years, and the City respects Peaks Island as an important and unique island community within the City of Portland.  Sadly, a majority of island residents voted today to begin the difficult process of separation from Portland. 

While the City respects the will of the voters on Peaks Island, it is my belief that secession ultimately will make residents of both the island and the mainland worse off.  Secession leads to duplication of services, and that hurts all of us.  Maine communities need to be coming together during times like these, not moving apart.

I do wish to acknowledge the hard work of city staff and island residents over the course of the last few months as the secession issue has been before us.  The issues have not been easy, but true to the community spirit of Portland, the participants treated each other with dignity and respect.  I expect no less as discussions continue regarding the future of the Island.  Despite the best and in my opinion significant efforts made by the City over the course of its 200-year history with Peaks Island, a majority of the voters on that island have today decided to proceed with the secession effort.  We don’t agree with the majority but we respect the process and accept the result.

We will now in good-faith engage in the mediation and arbitration required by the secession law.

Peaks voters should be aware thatAs far as where we go from here, in upcoming arbitration and mediation negotiations over the cost of secession,  and other issues, we the Portland City Council hashave a duty to the rest of the City to negotiate and, if necessary, lobby in Augusta for the best interests of the remaining residents and taxpayers in Portland.  terms for Portland’s businesses and residents.This may include opposing secession efforts within the Legislature, or advocating for a division of costs and responsibilities that protect other city residents from increased financial burdens related to secession.  In the meantime, the City of Portland is committed to maintaining City services on Peaks Island as the secession process moves forward.   

Mediation and arbitration will need to resolve a number of significant issues in a way that does not pass any tax burden resulting from secession onto the other city residents and property owners.  From my point of view as Mayor and as the District 5 Councilor, we should also oppose passage of any secession legislation for the same reasons that we opposed secession to begin with: it is far better for all elements of a community to work together to seek compromise than to separate, because separation is not only an expression of failure but is also something counter to fundamental governmental principles including the need to regionalize government services whenever possible to save taxpayer dollars.

 During the difficult period before the issue goes to the Legislature next year, we are committed to maintaining City services on Peaks Island. 

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