CARIBOU, Maine - A group of Caribou residents who want to secede from the Aroostook County city will present a report on the effort at a public hearing tonight. The Caribou Secession Committee says residents in the rural areas surrounding the city are poorer than people in living in town, but are paying a disproportionate share of property taxes and other costs and fees.
Secession supporters point to a number of longstanding inequities that are driving their effort. In 1967, for example, Caribou became a city and, in the process, moved away from the town meeting-style of governance where residents get to vote on budgets and other key issues.
Forty-four years later, in 2011, Caribou underwent a city-wide revaluation.
"It's about affordability and survivability. Rural Caribou was hit very hard with the revaluation," says Paul Camping, who is with the Caribou Secession Committee. "We had three consecutive years of tax increases. So our tax levy, as a community, keeps going up and up and up. And it's becoming harder and harder to afford to stay in Caribou."
It's harder, especially, for those who live in the rural territory surrounding downtown Caribou. The more than 2,500 residents who reside in these areas pay roughly 40 percent of the property taxes for the city of just under 8,000.
Under secession, the rural areas would reincorporate as the town of Lyndon. Over the past year, supporters collected enough signatures from residents in these areas to force tonight's public hearing.
"I think there should be pretty good turnout - there's a lot of people on both sides of it that are pretty interested in the meeting tonight," says Caribou City Manager Austin Bleess. To move forward, Bleess says, the secession committee will have to take its proposal to the Legislature for approval. "After that, there would have to be an advisory referendum."
Under state law, if enough Caribou residents were to vote for the measure, the City Council would then have the final decision on secession. The earliest a potential secession initiative could make it onto the ballot would be June of 2016.