A major step for Chebeague Island self-governance was achieved in January when the Cumberland Town Council unanimously approved an agreement that would give Chebeague all of the town’s outer islands.

The tentative agreement would make 16 of Cumberland’s islands part of a Town of Chebeague in exchange for Chebeague annually paying Cumberland 50 percent of the property taxes collected from those islands for 50 years after secession.

After an all-day negotiating session with representatives of Chebeague Island, the Town Council passed the tentative agreement by a 7 to 0 vote on Jan. 7.

The tentative agreement is a major achievement for Chebeague independence, coming just six weeks after negotiations between the town and secession representatives began on Nov. 29.

“I expected the Town Council negotiations to drag out longer than this,” said Mark Dyer, of the five secession representatives for Chebeague Island. “I’m really quite happy with it.”

A final agreement will not be adopted until after Chebeague representatives complete negotiations with officials from School Administrative District 51. Those talks were scheduled to begin Jan. 13.

The agreement closely followed a vote held on Nov. 8 in which islanders approved secession from the Town of Cumberland by a vote of 246 to 41. Islanders have been working since March, 2005 on self-governance.

Right now, taxes on the outer islands are $72,000 annually, according to Bill Shane, Cumberland’s town administrator. If the agreed-upon sum were paid off immediately, it would total about $1.8 million, he said.

At any time over those 50 years, Cumberland and a Town of Chebeague could negotiate a lump sum payment or a different payment schedule. If an alternative payment were not worked out, Chebeague would pay Cumberland an amount equal to half of the outer island property taxes annually, at the tax rate in effect for that year.

Shane also said that if new figures from the state Department of Education hold up, “there will be no tax impact to the town of Cumberland,” from Chebeague’s secession.

The tentative agreement means that Cumberland would keep Basket and Sturdivant islands, located closest to mainland Cumberland. All other Cumberland islands would be part of a new Town of Chebeague including: Bates, Bangs, Broken Cove, Crow, Goose Nest, Hope, Little Jewel, Ministerial, Rogues, Sand, Stave, Stockman, Upper Green, West Brown Cow and part of Jewel and Little Chebeague.

The agreement also requires a Town of Chebeague to pay Cumberland $1.3 million within six months of secession. That sum covers Chebeague’s share of all of Cumberland’s outstanding debt, the cost of a new fire truck recently purchased for the island and about $100,000 that was used to purchase a parcel of island land on the North Road, which was to be refunded to the town’s general fund, Shane said.

If secession occurs, all property and equipment owned by Cumberland that is now on Chebeague Island would be owned by the new island town. The agreement also notes numerous non-monetary issues between the two parties that can be resolved at a later date.

Negotiations got off to a difficult start when the Town Council voted on Nov. 28 6-to-1 against Chebeague secession. But councilors maintained the “no” vote was taken simply to keep the matter in the jurisdiction of the council, and was not personal.

In the interest of disclosure, it should be noted that Mabel Doughty, a Chebeague Island secession representative, is David Tyler’s grandmother-in-law.