Sanford is the newest city in Maine – and perhaps the country – but the changes won’t be especially visible right away.
The city of Sanford was born on Jan. 1, nearly two months after residents voted to approve a new charter and change the community’s name and form of government. That means everything from a new budget approval process to new business cards.
The charter changed Sanford’s designation from town to city, created a mayor’s position and eliminated the annual representative town meeting, which has approved municipal budgets for generations.
The idea behind the new charter is to streamline municipal government and better reflect the amenities and infrastructure available in York County’s second-largest municipality.
Sanford, with a population of 20,798, is now Maine’s seventh-largest city, ahead of Augusta and behind Biddeford.
It is the first community in Maine to become a city since Caribou did it in 1967.
“We’re America’s newest city,” said City Councilor Brad Littlefield, who served on the commission that developed the charter.
He said Sanford will benefit from being recognized as a city. “I think we’re getting the attention we wanted. As we move forward, I think we’ll get even more of it, which is good for Sanford,” he said.
Planning for the transition from town to city began soon after the charter was approved in November. But until the new charter took effect, there were limits on what changes could be made.
Rather than ordering new business cards, employees have been letting existing supplies run out. New “City of Sanford” business cards will be ordered as replacements are needed, so there will be no extra cost.
Municipal vehicles and street signs required no changes, because all simply read “Sanford-Springvale.”
The City Council may eventually decide to buy a new sign for what is now City Hall, said City Manager Steven Buck.
The most visible change will be in Sanford’s budget process.
The new charter eliminates the representative town meeting, which has been held annually since 1935, and replaces it with a budget committee and citywide budget approval referendum.
Sanford’s representative town meeting was the only one of its kind in Maine, but it struggled for years with dwindling participation.
The city budget will be developed by a new seven-member budget committee, which will be appointed by the City Council this month.
The city is now accepting applications from people who are interested in serving as one of the four residents on the committee. Only two people have expressed interest so far, Buck said.
Three councilors will also be appointed to the committee, which is tentatively scheduled to begin meeting March 7.
Buck wrote to Portland Mayor Michael Brennan last week to request that Sanford be allowed to join a coalition of 10 mayors.
He said it is important for Sanford to finally have a seat at the table to discuss issues that affect the state’s largest communities.
Littlefield said this is an exciting time for Sanford, where a branding initiative is under way to market the city as it courts new businesses.
“I’m looking forward to a great year. I think (these changes) are healthy for the community and for southern Maine,” he said. “This can only be good for not only Sanford, but York County.”
Staff Writer Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at: