In the 1980s and early 1990s I helped eight rural Maine towns prepare comprehensive plans. Many of them resented the state’s requirement that they prepare these plans, so their plans focused quite a bit on what the state should be doing.

It was a lot of fun working with the townspeople who were selected to prepare the plan and I really enjoyed writing their plans, including one for my town of Mount Vernon.

Over the last two years a group in Mount Vernon created a fantastic new comprehensive plan. I attended the first couple of meetings to help them get started and they worked very hard on this new plan.

I love this quote in the front of the plan, an excerpt from “And One to Grow On” by John Gould, published in 1949: “So we had a large assortment of folks in our town, and although all towns have their characters, no town ever had as many as we did, or such fine ones. With the perspective of later years, I know now that everybody in our town was a character — and that the town was what made character, and I know the town made mine. Whatever it may be, the town made it. All I am or ever hope to be I owe to my mother’s bringing me up in that small Maine town, because growing to a man there gave me the priceless things that universities don’t sell, and other people don’t know.”

And I think this statement, in an explanation of the plan, describes just what a plan should be: Some policies present our dreams; others are anchored in reality. We believe a comprehensive plan should include some dreams, and we have done so.

In our town, I think they got it exactly right in the Overarching Goals: Protect Mount Vernon’s Rural Character, Conserve Our Natural Resources, Encourage Farming and Forestry, and Protect Wildlife Habitat and Water Bodies.

And their Key Principles are right on: Protect the rural characteristics and quality of life of Mount Vernon, Conserve important natural resources — especially bodies of water, Encourage small and home-based businesses that are consistent with the town’s rural character, Strive to maintain or enhance the property values of all landowners, Protect private property rights and preserve freedom of choice for individual property owners, and Treat all property owners equitably.

On Nov. 5, townspeople voted to approve our new comprehensive plan, which covers everything from growth, financing, environmental protection, and my most important goal, maintaining the town’s rural character. The new goals are actually similar to the goals in the 1991 plan.

But in the Kennebec Journal’s news report, Trish Jackson, a member of the Select Board and a leader of the comprehensive plan committee, explained, “What’s new is that instead of thinking of ourselves as a bedroom community for Augusta, we now identify more as a self-sufficient town where people can start small businesses or micro-enterprises or telecommute.”

A lot of the challenges facing rural Maine towns when I was writing those original plans have only gotten worse. I recently wrote a review of Michael Norton’s wonderful book, “Chasing Maine’s SECOND.”

Much of the book is about the 2nd Congressional District race between Jared Golden and Bruce Poliquin, and Michael does a good job of covering that contest.

But what I really appreciated about this book is that Michael focuses on the many challenges faced by our rural Maine towns. For example, he tells a story about Atkinson, a town just six miles from Dover-Foxcroft. Over the years Atkinson has lost a lot of its residents and most of its forests were placed in the tree growth program, which substantially limited the amount of property tax the private landowners had to pay.

That caused the property taxes for everyone else to skyrocket, and so the residents chose to give up their town and become an unorganized territory — and their taxes went from $23 per thousand dollars of valuation to just $6. Their kids continued to go to the same schools and the county took responsibility for their roads. I know that more and more towns are considering deorganizing because of all of the challenges now facing people in rural Maine.

Fortunately my town of Mount Vernon is not one of those towns. We are blessed with a great community of people who contribute a lot to our town from our Aging in Place Committee to the folks who cook for our Saturday morning community breakfasts. I’ve been a trustee of the town library for about 30 years and we are blessed with a great staff and wonderful volunteers.

People really value our community and I’m sure many will step up to help us achieve those ambitious goals in our new comprehensive plan.

George Smith can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or [email protected] Read more of Smith’s writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.


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