Maine Town Taxes Self to Death

Welcome to what used to be Centerville (MSNBC)

THE TOWN FORMERLY KNOWN AS CENTERVILLE, Maine – Mention Maine and most people think of autumn leaves. But the fall foliage masks a troubled landscape. In Cooper, Maine, citizens say they want to dissolve their town to lower taxes. Going out of business appeals to small places like Cooper, where only 145 people live. With no jobs and an aging population, the tax base is shrinking even though the costs of government keep rising. “It just got to be more than we could handle,” says Sue Dorsey. Dorsey says that’s why the 26 residents of Centerville let the state take over their affairs — everything from education to snow removal. “There was more to do and less people that wanted to do it,” says Dorsey. Centerville not only locked the door to city hall, it sold it for $3,500.

Since 1980, nine towns in Maine have ceased to be. And more are talking about it. A huge area — half the state — is now part of what’s called “the unorganized territory,” where there’s no local government. Maine’s thriving, picture-postcard coastal towns like Camden stand in stark contrast to its struggling rural neighbors to the north. Often called “the two Maines,” the gap seems to be growing between the haves and have-nots.

University of Southern Maine American studies professor Kent Ryden says, while the rugged independence of small-town Mainers is admirable, it doesn’t pay the bills. “To say we’re no longer going to be an independent town, we’re going to be a ward of the state, it’s not an easy thing to do. But as a practical decision it makes a lot of sense,” says Ryden. In every town but one, giving up local control has resulted in lower property taxes.

Once proud to pose as Maine’s smallest organized town, Centerville residents say it was never the town hall or the things in it that made the town. It was the people — and they’re still here — living souvenirs of a 162-year-old town that died.

A new one on me.

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, US Politics, ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Bryan says:

    Gack! That lead is worse than useless. “Mention maine and most people think of autumn leaves.”?!?! I think of lobsters, myself. Hockey maybe, and butt-freezing cold winters. I don’t think of leaves at all! Where are the numbers on this “most” categorization. Has the writer done a survey?!?

    To the topic at hand, there are several towns in rural texas that have dried up and blown away as the populace aged and moved away. There are also huge unincorporated areas that don’t *want* to be towns. I edited a paper in an area with over 7,000 residents who didn’t have a town.

    And why the focus on Maine? You can’t find stories like this anywhere in America?

  2. Bithead says:

    I’ve been to the State several times, and can vouch for the large areas of more or less unclaimed land. You know how you’ll see roadsigns announcing counties. There are stretches of I-95 north of Brunswick or so, where the counties aren’t counties, but section numbers.

    Nasty place to break down, even in summer.