November 4, 2010

Cumberland County adopts its first charter

By Dennis Hoey dhoey@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

For Cumberland County Commissioner Richard Feeney, it was only fitting that voters adopted a county charter during county's 250th anniversary year.

Officials said the measure got strong support from nearly all of the county's 28 communities on Tuesday, from large cities such as Portland, South Portland and Westbrook to small towns like New Gloucester.

Though the final totals won't be known until next week, a check of more than a dozen communities' results confirmed that a majority of voters approved the county's first charter since it was established in 1760.

"When I ran for office, I made the charter the holy grail of my campaign, so it has been a very emotional issue for me," said Feeney, who lives in South Portland. "We made history here in Cumberland County, after 250 years."

County Manager Peter Crichton said the charter will increase the number of commissioners from three to five, giving voters better representation. The board won't expand until November 2011, when two new members will be voted into office.

Feeney said he now represents about 85,000 people. That number is expected to drop to about 55,000.

Crichton said the charter also will increase the cap under which the county may borrow money without going to referendum, from $10,000 to $4.1 million.

Feeney said that will allow the county to borrow for much-needed repairs and improvements to its properties, such as the civic center and the county courthouse.

"That doesn't mean that we are going to go out and try to borrow that much money every year," Feeney said.

The charter also will eliminate the register of deeds and the county treasurer.

Diane Lee Gurney, who was elected county treasurer on Tuesday, and Pam Lovley, who was elected register of deeds, will be replaced by county employees when their terms expire in four years.

Claude Morgan, chairman of the Charter Commission, said an effort to enact a county charter in failed in 1982, and another failed in 2004.

A new commission began meeting in 2008, and Morgan said its members did a much better job of reaching into communities to get their message out.

In Portland, more than 64 percent of voters -- 14,064 -- voted to approve the charter. And in Raymond, a small town that has resisted charters in the past, voters supported it.

"We did well in Raymond, which to me is a good indicator that something changed," Morgan said.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

dhoey@pressherald.com

 

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