September 9, 2010

Peaks' bid for more autonomy met cooly

The chairman of the Island Council proposes a village corporation that would get a share of property taxes.

By Edward D. Murphy emurphy@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND - Peaks Islanders want to discuss a way for the island to remain part of Portland while gaining a degree of autonomy, says the head of the Peaks Island Council.

In a letter to Mayor Nick Mavodones, council Chairman Mike Richards said he would like to explore forming a village corporation, which would let the island remain in the community and retain a significant portion of the property taxes that homeowners pay the city.

There are several other village corporations in Maine. Each relationship is negotiated, with the village staying in the municipality and some of the property taxes from the village being kept by the town or city to pay for services. The village is in charge of the rest of the tax money and is responsible for other services.

If it were a village, for example, Peaks Island could contract with Portland for police coverage, contract with the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office or set up its own force.

Richards said the decision to discuss a village corporation was driven by disarray on the Peaks Island Council, which was formed after the island tried unsuccessfully to secede from Portland three years ago.

No one has filed to run for three vacant seats on the council in November's election. The four remaining council members, including Richards, plan to resign in two months.

"The islanders, I think, view the council as being powerless," Richards said, while the proposal to consider a village-city relationship "is a good faith offer by the island to try something that's a little more than the Peaks Island Council and less than independence. But it takes two to tango."

Mavodones responded coolly to the suggestion that Peaks Island and Portland negotiate a village-city relationship, noting that he's not even sure Richards and the Peaks Island Council have the legal standing to negotiate with the city.

He also noted that the City Council opposed the Peaks Island secession proposal, and said that entering into talks to give the island even some independence "is inconsistent with where the council was three years ago."

Richards said the Peaks Island Council was set up after legislators rejected secession and suggested that the city and the island try to forge a new working relationship.

But he said the City Council has rejected the Peaks Island Council's requests for a subsidy for Casco Bay Lines, which runs the ferry service from the mainland to Peaks and other Casco Bay islands, for a larger police presence and for more money for the island council, which used city funds to offset some of the cost of islanders' ferry tickets.

In many cases, Richards said, the city not only rejected the requests for more services, it cut back on those it provided.

Richards also suggested that if the city rejects negotiations, Peaks Islanders could go back to the Legislature, seeking to secede and arguing that they have tried to work with Portland but have been rebuffed.

Mavodones said the complaints about funding are "a matter of interpretation and perhaps the spin put on it," and Peaks Island is an important part of the city that should remain part of Portland.

But he doesn't think that establishing a new relationship with Peaks Island is necessarily the best way to do that.

"Every neighborhood has issues that come up and I don't see that treating one neighborhood differently from the others is the answer," he said.

He also doesn't like the idea of handling one neighborhood's property taxes in a different way than the revenue from any other neighborhood.

"We don't decide how much of our taxes come from Munjoy Hill or Rosemont," he said. "All of our taxes go to help the whole community."

Mavodones said the City Council will probably get a briefing on how village corporations work in the next few weeks and he is open to meeting with Richards.

But he doesn't feel he has any authority to start negotiations unless the City Council approves and until questions over the Peaks Island Council's standing are resolved, he said.

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

emurphy@pressherald.com

 

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