January 3, 2013

Sanford becomes Maine's newest city, two months after vote by residents

BY GILLIAN GRAHAM Portland Press Herald

Sanford is the newest city in Maine -- and perhaps the country -- but the changes won't be especially visible right away.

The city of Sanford was officially born Jan. 1, nearly two months after residents voted to approve a new charter and change the community's name and form of government. That means everything from a new budget approval process to new business cards.

The charter changed Sanford's designation from town to city, created a mayor's position and eliminated the annual representative town meeting, which has approved municipal budgets for generations. The idea behind the new charter is to streamline municipal government and better reflect the amenities and infrastructure available in York County's second-largest municipality.

The city of Sanford is the seventh-largest in the state, ahead of Augusta and behind Biddeford in terms of population. It is the first community in Maine to become a city since Caribou in 1967.

"We're America's newest city," said City Councilor Brad Littlefied, who was on the commission that developed the charter and thinks Sanford will benefit from being recognized as a city. "I think we're getting the attention we wanted. As we move forward, I think we'll get even more of it, which is good for Sanford."

Planning for the transition from town to city began soon after a charter was approved in November. Until the new charter took effect, however, there were limits on what changes the town could implement.

Town employees didn't order new business cards, instead letting existing supplies run out. New "City of Sanford" business cards will be ordered as replacements are needed, incurring no extra cost. Municipal vehicles and street signs required no changes, because all simply read "Sanford-Springvale." The City Council eventually may decide to buy a new sign for what is now City Hall, City Manager Steven Buck said.

The most visible change will be in Sanford's budget process. The new charter eliminates the representative town meeting held annually since 1935 and replaces it with a budget committee and a citywide budget approval referendum. Sanford's representative town meeting was the only one of its kind held in Maine, but had struggled for years with dwindling participation.

The budget will be developed by the new seven-member budget committee, which the City Council will appoint this month. The city is accepting applications from people interested in serving as one of the four residents on the committee, but only two people have expressed interest, Buck said. Three council members also will be appointed to the committee, which tentatively is scheduled to begin meeting March 7.

At its Jan. 8 meeting, the council will elect an interim mayor to serve through November. The "weak" mayor will oversee council meetings but will have no more voting power than a councilor.

In November, residents will elect a mayor to serve a three-year term. After that term is over, a mayor will be elected every two years, on the same election cycle as the Legislature.

Buck last week wrote to Portland Mayor Michael Brennan to request that Sanford be allowed to join a coalition of 10 mayors. He said it is important for Sanford finally to have a seat at the table to discuss issues that affect the state's larger communities.

Littlefield said this is an exciting time for Sanford, where a branding initiative is under way to market the community as it courts new businesses.

"I'm looking forward to a great year. I think (these changes) are healthy for the community and for southern Maine," he said. "This can only be good for not only Sanford, but York County."

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