CARY PLANTATION, Maine — It’s official. Cary Plantation is moving forward with its plans to pull out of School Administrative District 70 and start the process to become a deorganized territory.
A total of 64 residents braved the elements Tuesday to overwhelmingly cast ballots in favor of both withdrawing from the school district and deorganizing. Because Cary has no town office, the special election was held at the SAD 70 superintendent’s building in neighboring Hodgdon.
“The turnout was great,” said Kai Libby, first assessor for Cary. “I was kind of nervous because we had to have 50 percent turnout from the last gubernatorial election and then it had to pass by a 50 percent vote.”
There are about 120 registered voters in the town of about 196 residents, so 53 percent turned out to vote on the two items on the warrant.
The first referendum asked residents if they wanted to withdraw from SAD 70. That question passed 59 in favor and one opposed.
The second question asked residents if they wanted to continue with the deorganization process. That question passed 64-0.
In the last 100 years, 42 communities in Maine — many of them faced with rising property taxes and dwindling populations that no longer could afford local government — have ceased to be towns. The last to do so was the neighboring town of Bancroft, which officially deorganized in June, ending a three-year process.
The tax rate in Cary Plantation, which is $23 per $1,000 of assessed property value, would drop considerably once the town deorganizes. The rate for Unorganized Territory fluctuates between $6 and $9, and was currently $6.69, according to Lisa Whynot, supervisor for Unorganized Territory.
The town also has gone through a transition phase as Marcia McGary (town clerk, general assistance officer and registrar of voters) and her husband, Tim McGary (first assessor and animal control officer), both resigned their posts.
Kathleen Osler since has been named town clerk, registrar of voters and general assistance officer. Libby took over as the first assessor, and Jeremy Hiltz, the town’s third assessor, was named animal control officer.
According to Libby, the next step is to notify the SAD 70 superintendent’s office about the vote and to form a local school board to oversee Cary’s students until the town officially deorganizes. Libby said the community won’t withdraw from SAD 70 until the end of this school year.
The town has targeted a date of July 1, 2017, to officially dissolve. Originally, town officials thought the process would not be feasible until July 2018, but they since have learned it can be done more quickly. The state Legislature must still approve the town’s request to deorganize, but local residents don’t expect any issues with that happening.
Once the town is dissolved, the state will take over managing where students from Cary will go to school.
According to the 2015 town report, Cary Plantation had $40,029 in delinquent taxes for 2014 and an additional $18,336 for 2013. The town collected $193,639 in taxes for 2014. Towns are not allowed to come into the Unorganized Territory if there is any lingering debt. Cary Plantation does not have any debt and has only two small parcels of land to dispose of, which should make the transition seamless.
Cary receives $10,962 in revenue sharing from the state, but the total municipal appropriation to run the town, including school and county tax commitments, is $305,015. In the 2015-16 SAD 70 budget, Cary paid $121,542 to send students to schools in the district.
According to figures presented at a special meeting in July, the cost to tuition students to SAD 70 was $7,123 for elementary students and $9,754 for high school students. There are 15 elementary students and three high-schoolers enrolled in SAD 70, therefore the cost to tuition those students could be $136,107. Transportation costs are not included. Tuition costs also fluctuate from year to year, so those figures could be different for the 2016-17 school year.
Libby said the plan is for all of the students to be tuitioned to SAD 70, so there will be no change in their education.
One issue that will need to be addressed, Libby said, is the condition of some of the roads in the town. Before the state will assume ownership of the town roads, some sections will likely have to be rebuilt, he said.
“We’ll have some road repairs to do, and we’ll hit that in the spring or summer,” Libby said.
Cary Plantation has 13.5 miles of town-owned roads, with 10 miles plowed in the winter.