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The Roberts Trap is Sprung

By:  Bill Dunne
One of the most overlooked aspects of the year just ended is the vindication of Chief Justice John Roberts -- a vindication that showed up as the national catastrophe known as ObamaCare got rolling.  Roberts may have also doomed Hillary Clinton's chance to live in the White House again... click here to read whole editorial


Caribou Secession Group Holds Public Hearing


By:  David Deschesne

Fort Fairfield Journal, June 24, 2015


   Caribou inhabitants gathered at the Caribou Performing Arts Center on Thursday, June 11 to discuss the proposed secession of the rural area of town, which would revert back to the former town of Lyndon.

   The secession committee is comprised of Maynard St.Peter, Freeman Cote, Milo Haney, Doug Morrell, and Committee Chair, Paul Camping. “Our membership includes 3 former City Councilors and their like-minded friends, neighbors and relatives,” said Paul Camping.  “Some of us have been involved in the affairs of the city for over 25 years trying to effect change from within the “system”. Nothing has worked because the cards are stacked against rural citizens by the city manager form of government and the city charter.

   “Presently, a condition exists where about 31% of Caribou’s rural population resides in the Territory and pays taxes amounting to nearly 40% of all the revenue raised from property taxes citywide, yet receives less than half of the services that are provided to urban citizens! The Caribou Secession Committee recognizes that the city is constitutionally required to assess all property fairly and uniformly, but it is not obligated to provide equal services to every resident!” said Camping.  “It is this gross disparity in the provision and delivery of services coupled with the restrictive land use regulations that the Committee believes are patently unfair to rural residents that are an aggravating factor leading to secession; particularly in view of the large, year after year, tax increases which the city administration claims are necessary to fund the spending for services and amenities delivered to urban citizens within the Urban Compact Zone.”

   In a report produced for the meeting an escalation of expenses was noted in reference to expenditures for street lighting, sidewalks (maintenance and snowplowing), parks, swimming pool, the Wellness and Recreation Center, General Aviation Airport, fire hydrants and police patrols, free public parking lots and their maintenance, spring cleanup and brush removal, winter carnival, “Thursdays on Sweden Street” parties, etc.

   “The Mayor, in response to the Committee’s concerns regarding taxpayer fairness, has exasperated the situation by publishing a satirical Op-Ed article in the local newspaper in which he makes a public mockery of the secession movement. His ample and continuing arrogance in this regard proves that the rural taxpayer is at a severe disadvantage with respect to this excessive taxation and the situation is never likely to improve as long as the City Council-City Manager form of government is in force.”  

   Camping notes Caribou’s future path to big increases in spending is one of the primary causes of the secession movement.   “Secession will allow all rural residents to receive equal services, pay up to 28% less in property taxes and continue to enjoy their rural country lifestyle without the fear of living in a home they can no longer afford. The city’s policy on taxation has made us “land rich and cash poor!”

   Caribou is a city in decline.  The city’s population has declined by at least 2.9% from 8,189 at the 2010 U.S. Census to an estimated 7,952 in 2013. Student enrollment at the Eastern Aroostook Regional School Unit 39 is down by 82 students this year alone, while the per capita tax rate continues to climb. For many, paying your property taxes in full and on time has become an annual struggle. For FY2014 the city received revenue of $56,896.00 in interest charges on delinquent taxes which have now reached a staggering $845,000.00 while the number of tax acquired properties is at an all-time high.

   Demographically, 19.3% of Caribou’s population is 65 years of age or older and living on a fixed income while 16% are living in poverty. Estimated Per Capita income in 2013, was $25,000 dollars per year while the median house hold income was about $40,000. Unemployment is pervasive and or seasonal and many of Caribou’s residents receive some form of government benefits. The cost of living is among the highest in the state.

   During past periods of relative prosperity, when the population was larger and economic activity was proportionally greater, the per capita tax burden on residents was far less than it is today. According to the report, “In the years preceding the closing of nearby Loring Air Force Base in 1994, the size and cost of city government grew. Money was freely spent on schools, parks and recreational facilities, a general aviation airport, urban renewal projects, snowmobile trail groomers and city owned parking lots. The number of employees increased. Compensation and fringe benefits were second to none as Caribou was engaged in a fierce competition with the City of Presque Isle to become the preeminent place to live and work in northern Maine.”

   “By 1960, the city’s population had reached its peak of 12,464 but soon started to decline, with the closure of the Loring Air Force Base in 1994, the population decline accelerated. Businesses closed, people moved away and student enrollment began the steady decline still in progress today. Present day Caribou is a mere shadow of its former self. Yet, property taxes and the per capita tax burden are at an all-time high.”

   The report also mentions how the City of Caribou artificially and arbitrarily increases the assessed value on homes way above current market prices.  One example was a home owned by Mr. Mark Reschke.  Mr. Reschke has been trying to sell his home for $269,000 for over a year with no success.  But that didn't stop the city of Caribou from reassessing his home's value at the inflated price of $336,500 in 2011.  “Mr. Reschke appealed his assessment and requested a tax abatement of $60,000.00. He appeared before the Caribou Board of Assessors and used comparable properties as the basis for his appeal. His abatement request was denied,” said Camping.  “So now he is burdened with a 'real estate bubble' assessment on a home with a 'recession market' value! Sadly, there are many other home owners in the Territory with similar predicament.”

   “It is against this backdrop of incontrovertibly dismal economic and demographic factors which forces us to conclude that rural citizens would be far better served by a smaller local government with lower taxes. It is also noteworthy to mention that over the last decade, the City of Caribou could have used state revenue sharing funds to offer its citizens property tax relief, as those funds were intended to be used; but municipal officials chose to divert that money away from tax relief and use it to expand the size and cost of its government. As a result, our local government is much larger and more expensive to operate than it needs to be and yearly tax increases have become necessary just to maintain the status quo. The City Council is now proposing new and expensive construction projects—a swimming pool for the Wellness and Recreation Center and a Police-Fire-Ambulance Public Safety Complex—which are likely to drive the mil rate to 25.5 from its current 22.3.”

   Camping says the committee intends no harm to come to the City of Caribou or any of its post-secession inhabitants. “An amicable separation is most desirable and when secession is achieved, it will put an end to the competition for resources between urban and rural citizens. We also hope to put an end to the insidious culture of taxation which drives up the cost of government and makes living in the harsh climes of northern Maine much more difficult than it needs to be. Secession will also set the town of Lyndon on course for a brighter, independent and more affordable future.”

   A pdf file of the secession committee's exhaustive 55 page report can be downloaded here.


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