March 31, 2015 / 5:55 PM / 5 years ago

Movement to break up tiny Caribou, Maine, takes step forward

AUGUSTA, Maine (Reuters) - A group of residents of Caribou, Maine, who want to break away from the city of 7,952 people citing high taxes took their first formal step towards secession on Tuesday when officials confirmed they had enough signatures to begin formal consideration of the idea.

Some 1,198 people signed the petition to carve out a new town called “Lyndon” from mostly rural Caribou, a land of sprawling potato fields, clapboard barns and trout streams, a move that promoters contend would slash property taxes by nearly a third in the new territory.

The move to secede is one of many across the United States in recent years, as angst over taxation and increasingly polarized politics has sparked grassroots activism.

“There is a lot of pent-up resentment here,” said Paul Camping, one of the leaders of the secessionist group. “People are just crying uncle under the weight of taxes.”

Residents in Caribou, which is closer to Quebec City, in Canada, than Portland, in southern Maine, pay $22.30 in property taxes for every $1,000 of assessed value on their homes, land and businesses, well above the $13.99 state average.

The secessionists say high taxes provide expensive perks for city dwellers, like groomed snowmobile trails, a recreation center and an airport, amenities that the signatories say they neither need nor want to pay for.

“We don’t believe in taxing a nickel more than necessary,” said Camping. “The taxes are driving people and businesses out of town.”

For secession to become a reality, the town must hold a public hearing, a ballot-box referendum and then win approval from the state legislature.

Caribou Mayor Gary Aiken said formal opposition to the plan had yet to materialize, but the upcoming public hearing, likely in May, would be telling.

“All across the country, the opposite is taking place — communities are looking for ways to combine services, to be more efficient,” said Aiken. “I still don’t understand how splitting up will save us money.”

Reporting by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Scott Malone and Eric Beech

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