CARIBOU, Maine — Rural residents wishing to secede from Caribou have suffered a setback, with the Maine Legislative Council refusing to advance proposed legislation creating the town of Lyndon.
By an 8-2 vote the council on Oct. 23 killed Legislative Resolve 2184, An Act to Allow Part of the Town of Caribou to Secede and Form the Town of Lyndon.
The council is made up of leadership from both parties of the Maine House of Representatives and the Senate.
Sponsored by Republican Sen. Peter Edgecomb of Caribou, the resolve making its way through the legislative process as a bill was supposed to be the next step in the secession process.
Now, those on both sides of the issue are uncertain where the secession effort goes from here.
“We are working to understand the implications of the Legislature’s decision to not hear our bill request in the second session,” Caribou Secession Committee spokesman Paul Camping said Tuesday morning in an email. “All I can say now is that at this point in time we are in full compliance with all the elements of the law.”
In March, members of the secession committee submitted their petition to the town to leave Caribou and take 80 percent of its landmass with them.
At a June public hearing, Camping’s committee presented Caribou officials with a 54-page report outlining details of the secession plan, including the anticipated economic effects of the proposed split on the new town of Lyndon and what would remain of Caribou.
At the heart of the secession effort, according to Camping, is what he and his committee say is an unfair tax burden placed on rural residents to support a bloated municipal budget.
The 10-member Maine Legislative Council, evenly split between top Republicans and Democrats, advanced 32 out of 400 bills proposed by legislators for next year’s session, which is supposed to be reserved for “emergency” bills by law.
“From the beginning we recognized that the path to secession would be long and full of obstacles,” Camping said Tuesday.
Late Monday, Edgecomb said he was undecided if he would appeal the council’s decision. However, he said appeals are a longshot.
“I’ve never gotten a bill through on appeal before,” Edgecomb said. “I did tell [the secession committee] that there was a slim chance a second session bill would make it through.”
According to Grant Pennoyer, the council’s executive director, Edgecomb would need to submit a one-page rationale explaining the appeal by Nov. 2 to be addressed by the council on Nov 19.
Caribou City Manager Austin Bleess said on Monday that as far as he and city councilors were concerned, their involvement with the process is done for now.
“The [City] Council and the secession committee sat down in early July to talk about things,” he said. “That was the last time the city has been involved, and it’s hard to say what the [secession] committee will do next.”
All involved were unclear if the Maine Legislative Council’s action — provided there is no successful appeal — means the secession process would have to start over completely.
But Rep. John Martin of Eagle Lake, the Aroostook County lawmaker with five decades of experience in Maine politics, said Tuesday evening that the secession group would not need to start over.
The group could try to get a bill in the first round of the next Legislature, he said.
Caribou City Councilor Phil McDonough II said there wasn’t anything more for the city to do at this point and that the matter was between the secession committee and the Legislature.
“I think there is one more opportunity [for the secessionists with the appeal process] next month. And as part of the democratic process, they ought to have that second shot anyway,” McDonough said. “There’s nothing left as far as we’re concerned until there is legislative action.”
While unsure of the direction their secession efforts will now take, Camping said earlier Tuesday that his committee remains resolved.
“We remain fully committed to seeing this effort through to its end,” he said. “We will continue to move forward until we have no other options.”
Aroostook Republican and News writer Christopher Bouchard contributed to this report.