Residents of the town of Oxbow Plantation took their final vote Tuesday in favor of disbanding local government. If all goes according to plan, they will be living in Oxbow North Township next summer.
By a vote of 37 to 2, Oxbow residents gave the go-ahead for a town deorganization plan that’s been more than two years in the making and was approved by the Legislature last March.
“It’s quite a process,” Steve Sherman, a tree farmer and the town’s first assessor, said. “We’ve had some good help from the [state] officials [who oversee] the Unorganized Territory.”
As a local official filling numerous roles in town government, Sherman will be overseeing much of the implementation plan for officially joining the Unorganized Territory of Maine as Township 9 Range 6, on July 1, 2017.
Oxbow, one of several junctions to the North Maine Woods west of Route 11 in Aroostook County, has been facing the same challenges as many other rural Maine towns — declining population and a rising tax burden to maintain local government.
As a member of the UT, the residents will rely on the county and state for public services. It’s easy to see why residents are willing to give up local control. While the mill rate was $20.95 per $1,000 of property valuation in Oxbow this year, residents in Aroostook County’s Unorganized Territory were assessed a $6.47 mill rate.
Before the town can deorganize, however, it has to liquidate its properties, including a public boat launch on the Aroostook River that will be turned over to the Bureau of Public Lands. The town’s community center, a former one-room schoolhouse, will be turned over to the Oxbow Congregational Church, which will continue operating it as a community center, Sherman said.
The town also has to withdraw from the school district, Maine School Administrative District 32 in Ashland, and pay off its share of the debt from the 6-year-old consolidated school complex. That cost amounts to about $52,000, more than $1,000 per resident of Oxbow, Sherman said.
“The 2010 Census called it 66, but I can only find 50,” Sherman said of the town’s population. Five are K-12 students, who will likely continue going to school in Ashland, Sherman said.
Oxbow residents first considered deorganizing in 1994, but they voted 21-9 against it that year. Now is the right time, Sherman said. Oxbow would be the 43rd Maine community to deorganize over the last 138 years, with the most recent being Bancroft in June 2015.
“We’re running right out of people,” Sherman, 60, said. “It gets hard to find people to fill the town offices, and there’s really very little that we have much say of anyway. People are on fixed incomes, taxes are getting pretty bad, and it seemed like it was time to go in that direction.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified the number of votes for deorganization and the number of students and tax rate for this year.