The Maine Viewpoint
Editorial opinions from across the state.
Photo Credit: ©istockphoto.com/Silvia Jansen
JOURNAL TRIBUNE, BIDDEFORD
Ogunquit and Wells struggle to find a fair balance.
It should come as no surprise to Ogunquit residents that the legislature has been unmoved by complaints of unfairness in educational funding.
The Town of Ogunquit made a strong case that it pays a heavy share of the costs of the Wells-Ogunquit School District. Yet it failed to persuade legislators that it should have the option of withdrawing from the district. A bill to allow withdrawal received a negative recommendation in March from the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee.
There are good reasons why Ogunquit and Wells should continue to share a school district, but the underlying money issues are a legitimate sore spot — and a reminder that state decisions often do not reflect the interests of local taxpayers.
According to Rep. Peter Bowman, D-Kittery, who introduced the legislation, Ogunquit’s costs amount to nearly eighty thousand dollars per pupil. With only about fifty students enrolled, Ogunquit contributes about $4 million to the district’s annual budget — about 25 percent.
It might seem disproportionate, but the state system relies heavily on local property taxes to allocate education expenses. Ogunquit’s commercial and residential property comprise a significant part of the tax base for the Wells-Ogunquit District. An appropriate balance between enrollment and property values can be difficult to achieve, and arguments over fairness arise frequently within school districts, including nearby Kennebunk and Kennebunkport.
In the thirty years since Ogunquit separated from Wells, the cost of education has been a continuing controversy and it is likely to continue. Despite the apparent unfairness, dissolution would leave Wells without the resources on which the system depends, and it would run counter to the statewide plan of consolidation that is intended to reduce education costs.
Inequities could be eased if the state were willing to finance a larger share of education costs, but that doesn’t seem to be in the cards. In 2005, Maine voters approved legislation requiring the state to pay 55 percent of local education costs, but that goal has never been met. State aid to education is expected to amount to less than 50 percent this year, with little of it destined to reach Wells-Ogunquit.
Disagreements over costs are felt especially keenly this year, but work on the state budget is winding up with some good news. Thanks to increased tax revenue and federal aid, $26 million was restored to state aid to education, reducing the cutback for the coming year to $47 million.
This year’s disappointments will be felt strongly by taxpayers and schools alike as school budgets take shape. The bottom line is that education remains a vital investment for the state, though largely financed by local taxpayers.
BANGOR DAILY NEWS
The news that Maine ranked third in the annual CQ Press crime ranking of the nation’s safest states should generate some local pride. The fact that Maine follows Vermont (No. 2) and New Hampshire (No. 1) should inspire an advertising campaign. Imagine the video or still images for TV or magazine presentation: rocky streams flowing under covered bridges; village centers with red brick buildings; clapboard homes and a white church steeple rising overhead; lobster boats bobbing in a harbor. And then the tag line: “Northern New England — The safest place in America to raise your family.”
Two of those three states are struggling to retain or grow population; Maine’s population has grown just 7 percent in the period between 1990 and 2007; Vermont’s grew 10 percent during the period; and New Hampshire grew 19 percent. Maine’s aging and slow-growing population continues to plague efforts to grow the economy, so any angle that state leaders can use is worth exploiting. And it’s not exactly manipulative to boast about Maine’s low crime rate; families with young children and retirees both identify safety from crime as a key factor in determining where to live.
The CQ Press notes that Maine has been in the top three of its annual list in each of the last sixteen years. The ranking system analyzed lots of data, but six crimes were weighted more heavily than the others. In assaults, Maine ranked fiftieth (or best). For burglary, its rank was 36; for murder, 47; motor vehicle theft, 49; rape, 30, and robbery, 44. Those writing on Web sites aimed at law enforcement audiences took a smirking tone at the rankings, suggesting that each state and even regions within a state classify crime differently. But even if the rankings are approximate, it’s clear that rural New England has this part of the quality-of-life equation cornered.
Other cold-weather states followed New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine on the list: North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming. There may be a connection between the number of nights each year in which the temperatures dip below freezing and the inclination to fight or steal. Iowa and two other New England states, Rhode Island and Connecticut, rounded out the top ten.
Of course, it’s more than just cold weather and small populations that account for the low crime rate. Maine’s law enforcement agencies are largely community-based; officers get to know the neighborhoods they patrol. And most law enforcement agencies in Maine are operated by local government — towns, cities, and counties — so the public only has to attend the next selectmen, council, or commissioners meeting to express its concern about responsiveness.
For the present, Maine leaders ought to fire up the PR machine and sell our safety to the nation.
SUN JOURNAL, LEWISTON
MDOT’s Flawed Logic
We’ve created sprawl through poor planning, both transportation and land use, and we’re going to follow that up by creating a subsidized commuter system to chase those same commuters on a free highway. That sounds ridiculous to me.”
Androscoggin County Commissioner Jonathan LaBonté is absolutely correct. It sounds ridiculous because it is ridiculous.
The Maine Department of Transportation has spent the past eighteen months studying commuter patterns north of Portland, anticipating applying for Federal Transit Authority Small Starts grant funding as part of the so-called Portland North commuter project. The conclusion of that study is that there are more commuters and, therefore, greater need to establish rail or commuter bus lines between Portland and Brunswick and not between Portland and Lewiston.
Should it surprise anyone that there are more commuters between Brunswick and Portland? That population is better able to afford private transportation. But, according to members of Visible Community, there are over three thousand households in L-A without cars, the highest percent of residences without personal transportation in Maine. Many simply cannot afford to buy cars, gas, and tolls to commute.
Counting existing commuters to justify expanding commuter lines is flawed logic because it ignores would-be commuters who are trapped elsewhere without public transportation.
The people of Lewiston and Auburn have proven eager bus passengers, with CityLink Bus System use increasing 89 percent between 2002 and 2008 after the system made adjustments in bus routes within the Twin Cities. There is no reason to think the same pattern wouldn’t emerge if the options to travel between L-A and Portland were improved. But that’s not MDOT’s end goal.
No matter what option is chosen — rail or bus line — the commuter line will be heavily subsidized, so MDOT is leaning toward the option in which travelers will be most likely to pay the fare.
So, the Portland North project is not about serving the public as much as it is about paying the bill. That’s not a bad consideration, but it’s being made without also considering the possibility that should a commuter line open between Portland and Lewiston that the people here would be equally willing to pay. The line doesn’t exist now, so it’s supposition, but if there’s any place that needs public transportation more than another, it’s a place with the largest population of non-driving residents in the state.
But, as MDOT points out, the federal government does not consider economic development and community building when passing out money for transit projects. Only confirmation of existing commuter traffic. That’s ridiculous, too.
If MDOT goes with the bus line, it is considering the creation of a rapid-transit regional bus system traveling along breakdown lanes on either Interstate 95 between Portland and Auburn, or on Interstate 295 from Portland to Brunswick. That’s not just ridiculous. It’s daft.
Unless MDOT is going to establish stops to pick up passengers along the sides of these highways, rapid-transit in the breakdown lanes makes absolutely no sense. These buses can ride along in the travel lane in the established traffic pattern. Anything else would be confusing for motorists, and would limit the critical use of breakdown lanes for vehicles to . . . break down.
The point, we hope, of expanding the commuter line is to improve transportation. If that’s the case, the fact that some three thousand individuals in the Twin Cities aren’t commuting to Portland because they don’t have personal vehicles must be part of the equation to seek improvements.
In focusing expanded commuter lines along Maine’s coast, MDOT will simply be adding options for a population that already has a lot of options, a lot more means, and that will service the wealthiest people in Maine. How’s that for ridiculous?
HERALD GAZETTE, CAMDEN
Small Changes Count
Students in the Nature Club at Warren Community School have got it right, sending their plastic forks and knives back to the cupboard and hauling out the old silverware (or stainless steel). Tired of watching the plastic pile up in the trash cans after every meal, members of the Nature Club took the fork into their own hands, asking Maine School Administrative District 40’s food service director if the washable metal could return to the cafeteria.
The switch to plastic cutlery happened in the first place because students were tossing their silverware into the trash, along with whatever else was on their trays. Bad habits, laziness, or just a lack of being mindful, who knows, but those days are over. Plastic forks, knives, and spoons are out and the washable silverware is back in — with a campaign under way by students to teach others that no, metal does not go in the garbage bin.
Plastic dinnerware is a product of our disposable society, and it is useful in some situations. But not in a school with a high-functioning kitchen, plenty of hot water, and sudsy soap. And with no provisions for recycling the plastic, it is even less desirable on a daily basis. That’s a lot of plastic being bagged, hauled, and eventually burned in Orrington at the region’s trash incinerator.
Congratulations to the elementary school students for recognizing something that needed changing and for organizing and effecting that change. Maine collectively accomplished a similar exercise in self-discipline and recycling back in the 1970s with the highly successful bottle bill, and most of us got over tossing trash from our car windows.
Besides, not too many people like eating with plastic cutlery, even elementary school children. “Having real silverware rocks!” a fourth grader said.