Maine towns dissolve local governments amid budget issues

Many Americans want more local control but what if the local government can’t pay the bills? A number of towns in Maine have dissolved their local governments:

At a time of rising municipal costs, local governments around the country are looking for ways to rein in tax bills, pursuing privatization, the consolidation of services, mergers and even bankruptcy…

But in northern Maine, as operating costs have increased, the economy has stagnated and the population has aged and dwindled, a handful of struggling towns have pursued the unusual process of eliminating local government entirely…

Under state law, dismantling a local government takes 12 complex steps, often over at least two years, including legislative approval and a series of local votes. When a town deorganizes, state agencies and the county administer its services, like snow removal, policing and firefighting. Children are assigned to appropriate schools, often in a nearby district. Town-owned buildings and land are sold or held in trust by the state or the county. And every local government job is eliminated…

Other states have unorganized or unincorporated areas, but in Maine about half of the land is Unorganized Territory. The area predates the state itself — it was laid out when Maine was still part of Massachusetts and new settlers were expected to flock there. But the harsh climes of Maine’s wild lands, as they used to be known, never filled out with enough people to self-govern.

This last paragraph may be key: because of particular settlement patterns in Maine (which may be largely due to ecological factors), it is difficult to maintain municipal government. Wouldn’t this be a perfect situation for townships or county governments? For example, the township structure in Illinois is used as an illustration of an unnecessary layer of government in a state that has the most governmental bodies in the country. But, a local government serving a broader geography could be a helpful middle ground that allows residents to feel like they can have input while dispersing the costs over a broader area.

If the local government is officially dissolved, what marks the community? An understanding among local residents? Are there even any municipal boundaries or are these decisions then left to other bodies (like the Postal Service)?

More broadly, it would be interesting to see how many communities have “disappeared” in the United States in recent decades. I have found a few of these in my research on suburbs but it tended to happen prior to the 1970s through annexations and mergers.

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