SOUTH PORTLAND – Residents of Cumberland County face a daunting slate of questions on the ballot this November — but few of those questions are as significant or as far-reaching as whether or not to adopt the county’s first-ever home rule charter.

Sure, there are more exciting questions on the ballot. A faceless charter definitely lacks star power. But it is, likely, the most momentous question you’ll vote on this year. And your decision behind that curtain will impact you and your neighbors for decades to come.

A charter is a template by which we organize and manage our government. It’s a flow chart of the specific powers and authorities we vest in our elected officials and the many administrative offices that serve us.

Think of a charter as the proverbial pyramid you would diagram to illustrate who answers to whom in your office or organization. In this case, a charter also lays the legal foundation for what kinds of services the county will provide in the future. So adopting a charter impacts you and your community directly.

But Cumberland County already operates a jail, a 9-1-1 emergency center and a public prosecutor’s office, you’re thinking. Do we really need a charter? The answer to that question begins in Augusta and ends in our own backyard.

As it now stands, the Legislature provides the largest and most economically diverse county with a hand-me-down, one-size-fits-all template, as it does most counties in Maine.

The problem is that this current form of government is a relic suited to another time and place and many of its offices can’t keep pace with new challenges. Oh, and did I mention that the Legislature forbids us from changing even one rusty fragment of this antique — that is, until we adopt a fully-fledged “home rule” charter?

Fortunately, these same legislators provide us with an orderly and lawful process to create a home rule form of government that allows us to address challenges that are specific to our region.

Two counties — Aroostook and Knox — have already adopted their own charters. Others are in the process. The time has come for Cumberland County to join this movement forward.

In fact, you began a process to adopt a home rule charter two years ago when you elected six of us to serve on a charter commission, asking only that we return with a more responsive and efficient form of regional government.

We did. And now we’re asking you to finish that process and adopt the charter you directed us to draft.

A home rule charter empowers Cumberland County to incorporate a number of best practices in government, among them centralizing authority in a county manager’s office, eliminating some elected offices and professionalizing others, improving constituent representation, and broadening the scope of services our government now provides to more than one quarter-million people in 28 municipalities and townships.

Members of the Commission believe this legal document — blessed by the state Legislature — will dramatically improve the way the county delivers services to participating communities. And we believe it will reduce the cost of delivering those services, improve the efficiency and accountability of county government, and foster innovation. In short, this is the mechanism we can imagine to move county government into the 21st century.

Best of all, this charter brings a new flexibility to government. Voters can change the size and shape of regional government through referendum, which we’re not allowed to do now.

Don’t get me wrong. Cumberland County currently provides a number of excellent services. Leasing a regional 9-1-1 call center to participating towns saves everyone money and delivers top-notch service.

Even now, the county funnels large federal dollars to smaller communities, which otherwise wouldn’t be eligible for them, through a first-of-kind program in the Northeast.

Imagine, then, a sleeker regional government that delivers more of these kinds of goods and services to municipalities, school systems and even nonprofits by dint of its superior purchasing power.

Members of the Charter Commission believe voters know what’s best. We therefore urge you to vote “yes” on the charter question. You have the opportunity to make a decision in November that will benefit your neighbors and your children for years to come.

 

– Special to The Press HeraldThe charter and supporting documents are on www.cumberlandcountychartercommission.org.