Peak’s Secessionist Leaders Confident; “We Can Do Better,” says Russ Edwards.

By Carol McCracken  (Post # 706)

“I don’t want to live in a gated community for the elderly,” said Jane Gerard, laughing, a long time resident of Peaks Island.  “And that could happen if we are not allowed to be totally independent.  This is a working class Island and we want it to stay that way,” she said. Gerard, 68,  was just elected chairman of the Island Independence Committee several days ago.

“We want to make our own decisions about how we live and spend our money,” she said.  “And we feel very sure we can pay our way.  We can have our own school, library and have several million dollars left over.”  She recalled some history; back in 1786 Portland and Falmouth split apart.  Peaks Island became part of Portland because of  its proxmity to Portland.    For 225 years Peaks has not been allowed to make its own decisions.  Russ Edwards, 77, said that Peaks Island doesn’t even get half the money back that it pays to Portland in taxes. “We can’t afford Portland anymore,” he said. A former Maine State legislature back in 1965,  Edwards is a member of the Island Independence Committee. 

Edwards has lived on Peaks since 1969.  When he bought his home there, taxes were $200; since the re-evaluation a few years ago his taxes have risen to $7,000.  According to Gerard, the entire Island is considered waterfront property, whether or not property owners have a waterfront view.  “I’ve supported the secession movement for 30 years.  We are by nature a rural community  and our problems are entirely different from the city.  We can do better,” Edwards said.  When MHN.com talked to Edwards earlier today, he’d been in Augusta lobbying for support with state representatives. 

Another important player in the secession movement is Island newcomer Rand Gee, co-chair of the IIC and its PR person.  He does not have as large a stake in the secession movement as do others.  He has no school age children and is a long-term renter.  But he is concerned about so much of what Peaks lost during the last budget process.  ” Whatever happens, there will be change on the Island,” Gee said.  “If this becomes a retirement community, that will bring  change.  Or if we do succeed,  there   will be change as well.   The City of Portland has said we are a ‘cash cow’ because they won’t negotiate with us.”

The bill is in the Revisor of Statues  office in Augusta and has not yet been assigned a number.  It could be ready to be heard before the State and Local Government Committee in several weeks.  The Island  Committee will be responsible for preseneting two budgets at the hearing.  One budget is the amount it costs the City to administer the Island, and the other budget Peaks’ own proposed budget.  The Island  Committee must also present its own Prioirty List at the hearing.  If the state legislature approves this bill,  roughly all 800 registered voters of Peaks will have the last say; they will be able to vote the bill up or down on November 2nd this fall.