CARIBOU, Maine — Last week’s proposal for 80 percent of Caribou to break away and form a new town, Lyndon, in an effort to have lower property taxes took many by surprise and it’s been the topic of discussion around town for over a week.
Owning the local salon Lavender Puff, Karlyn Williams gets to hear different perspectives all day — and she’s heard from folks for and against secession.
“I think the people I’ve heard say things (who are opposed to secession) are people who don’t live in the outskirts of town, and they’re saying ‘it’s silly’ or ‘it’s ridiculous,’” Williams commented, “but one woman who was in here said she can’t wait for it to go through. She said she pays $4,000 a year (in taxes), she gets nothing for it, and she hopes it passes.”
Whether folks are for secession or against it, all sides agree that regardless of the outcome, this process takes time.
“We’re at the first step right now, and just because we go through the motions doesn’t guarantee that we’re going to be successful,” said Caribou Secession Committee Spokesman Paul Camping.
Camping and the 20-person committee are currently coordinating for supporters to help circulate a petition to hold a public hearing on secession, and they have as many as 10-15 new supporters who are looking to help the secession committee along.
While the ultimate goal of the committee is to form the new Town of Lyndon with lower taxes, Camping is spreading the word that signing the petition will only move the secession process to the next step — which is a public hearing.
“The petition is not their vote to secession, it’s an opportunity for more information,” he explained. “People who sign the petition can always vote ‘no’ later — it’s the vote that counts, not the signature on the petition.”
The most frequent concern Camping has heard from potential Lyndon residents is what happens to services — and Camping says services aren’t going anywhere.
“We have made provisions for highway maintenance, both summer and winter, law enforcement, and fire and ambulance,” he outlined, listing other services like solid waste disposal. The next question Camping gets is “do you have a contract signed?” and as Lyndon is not a town, they can’t sign contracts yet.
“People have to be assured they’re not losing what they have now. Lyndon will be a full-service town and everything they need they will get, and nothing they don’t,” he said.
In the opinion of Caribou’s Mayor, Gary Aiken, splitting the city to save tax dollars doesn’t make sense.
“It would be like the Walmart Super Center in Presque Isle deciding they were going to split the store in half with grocery and household items… now they both have to supply their own cashiers, their own stock people and everything else — where would the savings be in that?” Aiken commented. “Plus, the fact that, from the citizens’ standpoint, I think they’re better together. They’ve been together for 150 years here, and this kind of seems like a stupid time to split it up,” he added. “We all understand that economic times are bad; are they going to get better? I don’t know. But regardless of what happens, we’ve got a much better chance to withstand it all as one — not two different communities.”
Camping disagrees, and thinks that the only way left for the citizens to become stronger is to ease the tax burden the city is currently placing on them.
“People are struggling. We have a high number of people in our community who are disabled, unemployed, who are on Social Security, who collect food stamps and received LIHEAP benefits … but it gets more and more expensive to live here and (council) doesn’t seem to care because year after year, they’re raising taxes,” Camping said.
To date, the Caribou Secession Committee hasn’t released their proposed budget or figures supporting their claim of providing a 15.9 mil rate in the proposed Lyndon, but Camping stated that the figures will be made available to citizens at the public hearing.
Aiken has yet to see any financial information or projections for Lyndon’s budget, and he speculates that the taxpayers left in Caribou may actually have lower taxes than those living in Lyndon — but finances aside, he doesn’t think separation would be beneficial for Caribou or Lyndon residents as a whole.
“A concern I do have is some hard feelings may be caused over this, and that’s not what the process is for,” he said. “It is a democratic process, I think it should all be up front, I think the budget should be released now, I think the people that are signing petitions to determine whether they want to separate or not should actually see what it’s going to be — and be able to ask questions themselves before they sign a petition.”
Camping says that those circulating the petitions have many of the answers folks are looking for — and all they need to do is ask.
“When we knock on the door and we ask to see Mr. Smith, because he’s a registered voter, we’re going to tell him what we’re up to,” Camping said. “The cover page (of the petition) states the purpose and the intent, and also shows the map and street address so they know they’re within the territory, and they have every opportunity to answer questions at that point if they want.”
Persons who would like more information about the proposed secession can email Camping at email@example.com.
More information about the proposed secession will be available in future issues of the Aroostook Republican.