Gray residents pursue secession from town

A handful of residents of the Gray neighborhood on the western side of Little Sebago Lake have initiated a movement to secede from Gray and join the town of Raymond.

Members of the five-person secession committee cited Gray’s higher tax rate, dissatisfaction with town government, and the area’s proximity to Raymond as some of the reasons for pursuing secession.

According to the committee’s Facebook page, the secession territory includes the roads extending through Little Sebago Lodges Association, Gore Road, Deer Acres Road, Brown Road and Northern Oaks.

Jennifer White, the group’s spokeswoman, said the committee felt residents of the secession territory have “a real serious identity crisis.”

White said residents on the western side of the lake must take a 25-minute drive around the lake to access services such as the transfer station and the town hall. She said the secession territory receives fire-and-rescue services from Raymond and have mailing addresses in Raymond. For these reasons, she said residents “feel like they are more connected with the town of Raymond, not Gray.”

On the committee’s Facebook page, an “info sheet” compares the property taxes, schools, fire-and-rescue and road maintenance policies for both towns. According to the information, Gray has a tax rate of $18.30 per $1,000 of property valuation, while Raymond’s rate is $11.95.

According to Matthew Sturgis, chairman of the Gray Town Council, the town provides fire and emergency response to Raymond residents and, in return, Gray provides emergency services to certain areas of Raymond. Gray does respond to emergencies in the secession territory, but Raymond responders are typically the first on the scene.

“It’s an intermunicipal agreement to try to provide the best services,” Sturgis said.

David Getchell, a member of the secession committee who has lived in the area since the 1970s, said residents there simply identify more closely with Raymond. He said residents in the secession territory must “expend a lot of energy in order to get things done” with the town of Gray.

“Gray has never really thought of us as part of our community,” he said. “They certainly like our contribution tax-wise, but in past years we have been thought of as outsiders.”

Getchell said the idea of secession was “tossed around in the ’80s and ’90s,” but gained new momentum last fall. He said a dispute regarding a private section of Gore Road was “the straw that broke the camel’s back,” leading residents to begin researching the option for secession.

Gore Road is largely a public road located in both Gray and Raymond. According to minutes from a Town Council meeting in Oct. 15, 2014, about two-tenths of a mile of Gore Road, an area with six homeowners, is a private road.

Getchell, who also serves as road chairman of the Little Sebago Lodges Association, said the stretch of private road is in bad shape and in need of repairs. Getchell said he thinks the town should be responsible for repairing the road.

According to Maine law, public funds cannot be used for private roads unless the town holds a public easement over the land. The town of Gray provides plowing services for the road but cannot use public money for maintenance or repairs.

Getchell said he had sought legal counsel and finally found a way for the town to take possession of the road, but the council rejected the proposal.

He said the Gray Town Council “believes they’ve addressed the issue. I believe otherwise. They manufactured a reason why they can’t and won’t do it, and their answers to the solution are not acceptable.”

Sturgis said maintenance of Gore Road has been an ongoing issue. He said the council has attempted to address some of the pothole problems, and this year is “looking to put money in the budget for repairs.”

“It’s not that we’ve given up on trying to remedy the situation,” Sturgis said of the road.

Getchell said the secession committee has discussed with the town of Raymond “improvements to specifically that section of Gore Road” as part of the secession and joining with Raymond, but that the improvements are not guaranteed.

Sharon Young, a member of the Little Sebago Lodges Board, said she opposes the secession “until we have all the information necessary to make a firm decision one way or the other.”

Young has lived off of Gore Road for 24 years, and she said any issues with the road “are not being resolved by secession.” She said the dispute over Gore Road was an “impetus for secession, but has since been pushed aside.”

Young expressed doubt about how much money Gray residents would save by joining Raymond. Young said other residents of the secession territory have questions about the benefits of secession, and she “hopes no one signs onto the petition (to secede) until they have all the answers from town officials in Raymond.”

Joe Bruno, a Raymond selectman, said the decision to secede is in Gray’s hands, not Raymond’s, at least not for a year or two.

The residents have “a much bigger fight with the Legislature and the town of Gray,” Bruno said. “After that process is when Raymond takes up the issue.”

Bruno, a former state representative for Raymond, said the Legislature is unlikely to be swayed by the residents’ appeal for lower taxes, but that geographically the change makes sense.

He pointed out that when Frye Island seceded from the town of Standish, the residents made a number of concessions to the town, including continuing to pay money to Standish for the district’s schools.

“(Secession) was an expensive proposition. The town of Standish didn’t want to let the island go because of the tax money,” Bruno said.

Bruno said residents of the secession territory may face similar obstacles, but they “have to make their own decision about whether it’s worth it for them.”

Gray Town Manager Deborah Cabana said residents “have the right to explore the option,” but “ultimately, we would like to keep Gray whole and prefer secession to not happen.”

Cabana said secession is a “long, arduous process,” and it was “too early” to speak to the potential effects of secession on the town.

According to state statutes, the process of secession is initiated by a petition signed by more than 50 percent of the registered voters within the secession territory. The petition requests a public hearing in the town, where Cabana said townspeople will have the opportunity to voice their opinions.

White, the secession group’s spokeswoman, said of the mediation process, “I don’t see how some of the issues can be resolved. Geographically, you cannot move a piece of land. And I don’t see Gray lowering taxes.”

According to state statutes, a territory also needs approval to secede from the Legislature on two separate occasions, at least a 51 percent vote in favor of withdrawal from the secession territory, and approval from the majority of the town’s municipal officers.

“We’d like to see a way to reconcile this issue,” Sturgis said. “It’s a disappointing decision for our friends and neighbors – who we want to keep as friends and neighbors – to take.”