ROCKLAND, Maine — Brian Harden, the newly selected mayor of Rockland, wants to lead the City Council through anticipated budget difficulties by helping the city continue to adapt.
“I’ve always been proud of Rockland,” Harden said during an interview this week. “I’m really proud to see us survive the way we did. People say we went through a renaissance — we have never been through a renaissance. We adapt.”
Harden has been on the City Council for 10 years and has served two other terms as mayor, once from 2005 to 2006 and again from 2006 to 2007. This time will be a challenge as Rockland faces what people have predicted will be a difficult budgeting year.
Harden said his goals as mayor this time around include maintaining the support of businesses in town while keeping residential areas pleasant neighborhoods.
“A year from now, I would like the council to feel it has done the best it could to keep going in the positive direction we’ve been going in the last year or two — trying to get more and different businesses and at the same time keeping our residential areas intact while trying to get away from the property tax-only burden,” he said.
Harden has a few ideas about how to get the $17.6 million city budget off the backs of property owners: somehow getting more money from the Legislature for the city, charging for services, having organizations pay fees in lieu of taxes and maybe taking a piece of the sales tax.
“I don’t want to be taxed out of my home. I’m like everyone else in Rockland; I have to make ends meet,” said Harden, who has worked at a bookstore on Main Street for 32 years. “I’m sympathetic with everyone else’s taxes, but I’m sympathetic with my own.”
Harden argues that Rockland and other service centers around the state need more help from the Legislature than they are getting. Rockland has about 7,000 residents but supports many more people during the day who work, shop and visit in the city.
“These people who come in and double our population [each day]; we still have to arrest them, rescue them, pave roads for them — but they don’t pay taxes,” he said. “We don’t stand a chance.”
Harden said it’s time to “make noise,” but the city also should keep working to support itself. He cited cruise ships as one way the city is working to generate revenue.
“We are becoming a mixed-use harbor and becoming a destination. That’s how we will survive.”
Harden said the City Council, whose newest members were sworn in earlier this week, is a good mix of age and experience (“‘Sharp’ is the word I would use”). Bringing the four other city councilors and himself together to work through problems is his role, he said.
The councilors won’t have it easy, with more budget cuts anticipated for next year.
“There may have to be more cuts, and I don’t know where, but we are going to start the process sooner,” he said. “I want people to come in and tell us what they really need. We’re going to have to find out what people are willing to go without.”