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March 13, 2013

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

Rep. L. Gary Knight, R-Livermore Falls, introduces a bill to allow Livermore Falls to join Franklin County during a hearing Wednesday before the State and Local Government committee at the Cross Building in Augusta.

Hearing held on proposed Livermore Falls move to Franklin County

By Kaitlin Schroeder
kschroeder@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA -- A handful of Livermore Falls and Franklin County leaders spoke on behalf of a bill that would transfer the town from Androscoggin County to Franklin County during a public hearing Wednesday at the State House.

Those who backed the bill, including bill sponsor Rep. Gary Knight, R-Livermore Falls, said the town has stronger ties to its northern neighbor than its current county because of connections with jobs, ambulance and disaster-response teams, health care, social services and education, and cultural and economic development programs.

Maurice Castonguay, of Livermore Falls, spoke against the bill, saying he thinks moving the town to Franklin County would harm Androscoggin County economically. The committee also was presented a letter from the Board of Selectmen in Leeds, an Androscoggin town in Knight's district, in which the board said the switch would increase their share of county taxes.

Knight said Livermore Falls town officials are measuring what the economic effect of the switch would be for the town as well as for the two counties. Knight said that while Androscoggin County would lose revenue from the town, it also no longer would need to provide services to the town.

The town tried to join Franklin County in 2005, when Janet Mills, then a state representative from Farmington, introduced a similar bill that died in the Legislature before Livermore Falls residents had a chance to vote on it.

Livermore Falls Town Manager Kristal Flagg said 2 out of 3 voters approved of the idea during a nonbinding straw poll by the town at the time. About 200 of 2,200 registered voters attended the vote, she said.

Livermore Falls, which borders Franklin County, is about 15 miles closer to Farmington, the Franklin County seat, than it is to the Androscoggin County seat of Auburn.

Knight said this difference is costly to the Police Department, which would save time and money by making court appearances at the Franklin County Courthouse. He said the town also is trying to decide where to locate its dispatch service, and said the best alternative would be to work with the center planned for Wilton.

Livermore Falls police Chief Ernie Stewart testified that his department already works closely with police in Jay, which is in Franklin County. He said the two departments would be able to handle jurisdictional differences better if they were part of the same county. He said if a Jay police officer arrests someone in the Livermore Falls jurisdiction, the officer might need to make the time-consuming trip to Androscoggin County for court appearances.

Franklin Community Health Network President and CEO Rebecca Ryder said ambulances from Livermore Falls frequently take patients to the network's hospital in Farmington because they are required to take the shortest route to emergency services unless asked to do otherwise. She also said the health network invested in a $4 million Livermore Falls clinic in the town and its community members have served on the board of trustees.

Ryder said she didn't realize for more than a year when she started at the network that Livermore Falls was not part of Franklin County.

Livermore Falls is in the process of consolidating its education system with Jay. In the coming school year, all middle school and high school students from the town will attend school in Franklin County.

Alison Hagerstrom, executive director of Greater Franklin County Development, said Livermore Falls has strong economic ties to the county and are included in plans to bring jobs and promote business in the area.

Knight said he thinks it will be an economic advantage to Franklin County because the county would get about $250,000 in taxes from the 3,500-person town.

Franklin County Commissioner Gary McGrane, of Jay, said he is neither for nor against the bill. He said he thinks the redistricting has the potential to be a good move, but he wants to be sure Androscoggin County also agrees to the switch.

If the bill is approved by the the Joint Standing Committee on State and Local Government, it then will be considered by the Senate and the House. If enacted, the proposal then would go to voters in Livermore Falls. If it passes there, it then would be subject to approval by Franklin County voters.

The bill was introduced two months ago with eight co-sponsors, including Sens. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, representing many communities in Franklin County in Senate District 18; and Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon, representing Livermore Falls and other towns in Senate District 17.

Kaitlin Schroeder-- 861-9252
kschroeder@mainetoday.com





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