ROCKLAND, Maine — Taxpayers will see an average increase of $180 on their annual tax bills as a result of the City Council’s approval of a $17.6 million budget for next year. The 6.35 percent increase to the tax bills does not include new user fees for certain city services.
The council had decided to take the solid waste budget out of the general fund and instead make it a more self-sustaining account, which means raising the yearly fee for residents to dump trash from $10 to $65.
There was debate over trash-handling fees before the final roll call vote Wednesday night.
Councilor Tom Malloy disagreed with raising the sticker fee for residents. He asked the other councilors to amend the budget and put solid waste back into the general fund to prevent raising fees.
“I think the $65 fee is excessive,” Malloy said at the meeting. “There are people out there who are going to be hurting by what we’re doing with the overall budget.”
Other councilors argued that running the transfer station off user fees was fairer than charging property taxpayers.
Councilor Eric Hebert called removing solid waste from the general fund “the single biggest change we are making” in the budget.
“We are taking the municipal solid waste from being property tax-based to a fee-based system,” Hebert said. “It is a fairer system. More importantly, it provides us with a plan for closing the landfill.”
By taking solid waste’s budget out of the general fund, the department will begin to fund the inevitable closure of the city’s landfill. Harden said if the fees do not increase and the landfill closure is not funded in advance, the city will have to borrow money.
Harden compared Malloy’s amendment to “taking a really good hard-shell lobster, rip off the tail and still charge full price.”
The amendment was defeated 4-1 in a roll-call vote with only Malloy voting in favor.
In other discussion about the budget, Malloy said he supported an earlier draft written by the city manager. That proposal cut library services, the D.A.R.E. programs in schools, nonemergency fire and police services and more. In the past few months, the council added many of the services back into the budget.
Harden called the manager’s proposal a “two-page sheet of fear” with cuts the city “cannot sustain.”
A lot of people are hurting financially, Harden said, but “hurting doesn’t mean if you call 911 you don’t expect a quick response by a qualified emergency medical technician.”
Ultimately the budget passed 4-1 with Malloy opposed.
The municipality’s share of the $17.6 million overall budget is about $6.2 million, which is up from $5.95 million last year. The remainder of the total budget covers the school district and county services.