Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Local Control

The concept of “local control” has been very much in the forefront of political discussion in Maine recently as a result of the Governor’s proposal and the Legislature’s action to consolidate school districts from roughly 250 to 80 in order to achieve potential cost savings.

But just what is “local” control? Is it control by individual neighborhood? Or by village? Or by community (whatever that means)? Or by town? Or by county? And what does “local control” cost - or does cost even matter at all?

Here on MDI, the school district consolidation plan mostly involves town funding issues, but otherwise seems to require much less change than in some other parts of the state. Still, there are a few loud voices on the island decrying the loss of “local control” and rattling the sabre of a possible lawsuit.

Most people living on Mount Desert Island think of other residents of the island as “locals”. There are only 10,000 of us living in a clearly defined and contiguous area of approximately 10 miles by 12 miles - much smaller in population and generally more compact than many governmental units around the country that are considered to be “local”. We identify with each other as having a common bond resulting from living on the same beautiful piece of real estate. Yet, we have four town offices, four Town Managers, four Boards of Selectmen, four planning boards, four public works departments, three police departments, four fire departments, etc.

In the “old days” towns on the island were much more separated by such things as poor transportation and lack of easy communication, so “local control” at that time could reasonably have meant “town control”. But what is the excuse today? Sooner or later, we are going to have to realize that Mount Desert Island is, in fact, one community, that continuing to fragment and duplicate public services is prohibitively expensive, and that consolidation of island affairs is both economically sound and very much consistent with the concept of “local control”.