Media Archive

Regionalization tops local concerns in UT service delivery

Article from The Piscataquis Observer, Wednesday, March 08, 2006

By Fran Emmons
Staff Writer

DOVER-FOXCROFT A commission appointed by Gov. John Baldacci to study delivery of services to the unorganized territories (UT) met March 2 at the District Court House in Dover-Foxcroft with local officials to discuss their concerns with service delivery to the UTs in their region.

The commission, chaired by Sen. Bruce Bryant of Dixfield, is made of a variety of legislators, state department heads and private individuals representing landowner categories from less than 500 acres to over 100,000 acres.

According to figures provided by the state, education of the some 1,100 students and operation of 5 schools in the UTs makes up the lion's share of the UTs $13,289,722 annual budget at $11,916,245. Administration comes in second at $672,688, while the Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC), which does all the planning Mid permitting for the UTs, follows at $350,332. Fire protection, which department spokesman Bill Williams admits is purely fire suppression, comes in at $160,000.

Principally, there were two camps: landowners in the UTs who believe they pay tax dollars for virtually no services, and towns who deliver services to the UTs while bearing the brunt of the costs.

While the state divvies out money to the counties to pay for services, most of that money is passed on to the towns, with the exception of road maintenance.

Because of the rural nature of Maine's northern counties of Somerset and Piscataquis, the county governments are at the mercy of those willing to contract for the necessary services.

Often Piscataquis County gets just one bid for a particular service. Commissioner Tom Lizotte said, and there is no negotiating the contract amount. There are some instance where there are no bids and the county essentially has to beg a contractor to perform the necessary service at a premium.

Maine used to be made up of just five counties, although it now has 16. Is it time to change that number, perhaps lowering it through regionalization, suggested Charlie Pray, former state senator and commission representative for landowners of less than 500 acres.

Perhaps the solution is in combining municipalities, and strengthening county government, rather than combining UTs, Bryant offered.

The problem there is getting people give up local control. Pray countered.

One solution might be the voluntary alignment of a service center with surrounding towns and UTs to which it is the primary source of service delivery, according to a proposal developed by John Simko. town manager of Greenville. Greenville is the gateway to the UTs surrounding the Moosehead Lake region and contracts police, fire, ambulance and solid waste services to them as well as the surrounding communities of Shirley and Beaver Cove. Faced with massive new development, limited road structure and problems with both solid and septic waste disposal, the town is looking for ways to mitigate the impact of new infrastructure needs on its resident tax base.

The concept would be a voluntary organization made up of representatives of the county, the municipalities and the UTs involved that would respond and plan as a region to new service demands. The unique feature of Simko's proposal is the establishment of a infrastructure fund, underwritten by impact fees on new development or a dedication of taxes derived from new growth, similar to a tax increment finance district (TIF), or a combination of both. Such a fund could shoulder the brunt of pricey infrastructure needs, such as a transfer station, landfill closure, or new road construction, the demand for which are brought about by the burgeoning development in the UTs.

While something similar to a TIF could be legally implemented at present, legislation is necessary for such a group to assess an impact fee.

"If a developer is creating the demand, then the developer should pay for the services," Sharon Libby Jones of Greenville said. "It's not any different than a subdivision."

One of the problems is educating those who are moving into the UTs that they cannot expect the services they had living in suburbia.

"We have a number of folks who thought they wanted the back country experience and now they want it to be suburban New Jersey," Lizotte said. Recently residents in Frenchtown petitioned the county to take over winter management of the road that runs the length of First Roach Pond.

The need for a comprehensive plan, updated frequently, is critical, Jones argued, adding "that this is the last real wilderness in the Northeast." LURC is working on a complete revision for the UTs that it expects to deliver in 2007, according to the commission's director.

The UT commission will continue to seek input from local officials across the state, Bryant said. Their recommendations will be made in July.

"Content above originated in the edition noted as a copyrighted article and is posted here with permission of The Piscataquis Observer."

NOTE - This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of the TRC Alliance Team.