CARIBOU, Maine — The city clerk confirmed Monday that rural residents looking to break away from the urban part of Caribou to form their own municipality submitted enough petition signatures to move forward with the secession effort.
When secessionists — expressing frustration with high taxes — first announced their intentions to the Caribou City Council in July of 2014, they estimated there were 2,063 registered voters in that part of the community they proposed become the town of Lyndon. The petition for a public hearing on the plan needed to contain the support of 1,096 voters — more than 50 percent of the registered voters in the area — before the proposal formally could be considered.
The Caribou Secession Committee submitted 1,315 signatures March 9, and Caribou city clerk Jayne Farrin verified in an email Monday she validated 1,198.
A date for the public hearing to discuss the secession proposal likely will be set at the Caribou City Council’s next scheduled meeting beginning at 6 p.m. Monday, April 13.
During that public hearing, secession committee members must make a formal presentation to municipal residents and officers, describing the problems that led to their proposal and explaining their plans to resolve them.
The secession proposal would remove 80 percent of the taxable property in Caribou, which is roughly everything but the downtown district, to form the new municipality of Lyndon. The brunt of the population of 8,189 people, however, would remain in what’s left of Caribou.
“There is a lot of pent-up resentment here,” Paul Camping, one of the leaders of the secessionist group, said. “People are just crying uncle under the weight of taxes.”
Residents of the city pay $22.30 in property taxes for every $1,000 of assessed value on their homes, land and businesses, well above the $13.99 state average.
Camping and other members of the movement have maintained that Lyndon’s proposed select person form of government could run the town with a mill rate of $15.90, 25 percent less than Caribou’s tax rate.
“We don’t believe in taxing a nickel more than necessary,” Camping said. “The taxes are driving people and businesses out of town.”
During the public hearing on the secession proposal, local residents and officials will have an opportunity to ask questions, talk about the potential impact of secession on Caribou and the proposed Lyndon and offer their own solutions to avoid secession.
Should secession efforts continue after the public hearing, the next step would be to put the proposal before the state Legislature and request permission to conduct a referendum vote.
Camping said the process of creating Lyndon is lengthy and added that, even if the process happened as quickly as possible, only a “best-case scenario” could put the secession question on the ballot for this November.
“We can’t take our eye off the end goal, but we have to realize that in order to get to that end goal there are individual hurdles in front of us,” Camping said.
Caribou Mayor Gary Aiken said formal opposition to the plan had yet to materialize, but the upcoming public hearing — likely in May — would be telling.
“All across the country, the opposite is taking place — communities are looking for ways to combine services, to be more efficient,” Aiken said. “I still don’t understand how splitting up will save us money.”
Reuters contributed to this report.