Rockland council approves budget, resident tax hike

Posted June 04, 2010, at 12:22 a.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — The City Council has approved a $17.6 million preliminary budget for next year that would mean a 6.3 percent overall tax hike for Rockland residents. The budget passed Wednesday night would cost the average homeowner about $180 more in taxes next year.

The proposal will go to a public hearing, scheduled for 7 p.m. June 23, after which the council anticipates taking a final budget vote.

At the Wednesday meeting, councilors voted to put $28,286 back in the budget for six months of salary for a full-time police officer’s position now vacant. They also approved $56,250 to fund a reserve account for purchase of an ambulance. The council moved $25,670 from a reserve account and cut $57,000 from paving ac-counts so the town instead could keep two full-time public works workers’ salaries.

According to Finance Director Thomas Luttrell, residents will not see many cuts in services to the city, but they might see an increase in fees in some areas.

For instance, the City Council voted to remove solid waste from the town’s general fund budget by increasing fees for the service. Solid waste now will be its own self-funded account.

Rockland residents, who used to pay $10 a year for access to the transfer station, now will pay a $65 sticker fee. Between this change and charging commercial haulers $105 a ton to dump waste, enough should be raised to cover solid waste expenses and remove that line item from Rockland’s general fund.

Other fees that will increase include building permit fees and sewer permit fees, Luttrell said.

At the meeting, City Councilor Brian Harden argued that the city should not cut too many services as it could cost more to reinstate them in future budget years.

“If we don’t realistically look at what we’re taking out of our budget, it will cause us to raise the budget drastically next year or to drastically cut services,” Harden said. “I don’t believe saving the taxpayers money is what government does — I think we provide services.”

Most services that had been cut in previous meetings were added back in.

One of the bigger budget cut effects will be limited library hours. The library will have to close Monday nights and seven Sundays a year to meet budget needs.

“Really the only service cut was the library hours,” Luttrell said.

The D.A.R.E. program, which was at risk of being cut, was kept in the budget but now will be funded by asset forfeiture accounts, “otherwise known as drug money,” Luttrell said.

City employees can still expect a 3 percent raise in wages next year.

The municipality’s share of the $17.6 million overall budget is about $6.2 million — up from $5.95 million last year. The remainder of the total budget is the school district and county services.

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