Rockland OKs budget but says changes will await state budget decision

Posted June 24, 2013, at 9:28 p.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — The Rockland City Council adopted Monday night a no-tax increase municipal budget for 2013-2014 but local officials acknowledged they will need to revisit the spending package once the state budget impasse is settled.

The council voted 4-1 to approve the $10.6 million budget, but with the realization that once the state budget is settled, the city will need to come back and determine how to bridge what is expected to be a loss of some level of state revenue sharing. City Manager James Smith said the loss is projected to range from $280,000 to $730,000.

Smith said a cut of $280,000 would mean five municipal jobs would be lost if it was made up only by a reduction in expenses.

“If we cut one job from some departments they would become dysfunctional,” the manager said.

Councilor Elizabeth Dickerson, who also represents Rockland in the Maine House, said if the Legislature can override Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of the proposed state budget, much of the revenue will be preserved. The Legislature is expected to vote on whether to override the veto on Wednesday.

“I can’t tell you how painful it is to hear of people who can’t pay their bills but may have to pay an additional $65 [in property taxes],” Dickerson said, referring to what the increase would be if the city loses $280,000 in revenue sharing and replaces it with local taxes.

Dickerson was the sole vote against the overall budget.

At the Monday night meeting, councilors rejected on a 3-2 vote a proposed increase in the annual dump sticker cost from $65 to $72. Councilor Eric Hebert said he was opposed to the increase because the dump fee was created only a few years ago and he did not think it should go up so soon.

The manager said the increase is to pay for higher costs being assessed to the city by Penobscot Energy Recovery Company, which operates the Orrington incinerator where Rockland’s trash is sent.

Councilor Hebert also lobbied passionately Monday night for adding $10,500 into the budget for contributions for several social service agencies such as the St. Bernard’s soup kitchen, the Area Interfaith Organization food pantry, Coastal Transportation and Coastal Opportunities.

“Despite everything going on, we have an opportunity help the poorest of the poor,” Hebert said.

Councilor Frank Isganitis said, however, that the city provides aid through general assistance and that by adding more on to the budget, more people would end up needing the services of the food pantry.

The council rejected that proposal 3-2 with Dickerson joining Hebert in support of the addition.

Smith said the city has delivered on its pledge to not increase taxes.

The $10,647,576 proposal eliminates a maintenance position at the recreation department and cuts a vacant police department secretary position. Savings are also realized by changes in the labor union contracts that shift more health insurance costs to employees.

The largest department in the city budget is the police department account at $1.98 million. The public works budget is slightly less than $1.6 million and the fire department budget is more than $1.5 million.

Rockland’s taxes may increase, however, because of higher costs from Regional School Unit 13. That budget has yet to be determined, since it was rejected at the polls on June 11. The most recent estimate is for Rockland to pay an additional $212,000 in school taxes — about $50 per year for an average homeowner.

At the public hearing portion of the Rockland meeting Monday night, two residents spoke out for cutting spending from the budget.

Horatio “Ted” Cowan said the city needs to cut like households do in bad times. He said the state and country are in dire financial straits and that things will be getting worse to the point that banks will be closed and people and cities will not have access to their money.

Steve Carroll asked for a $1 million cut, saying the council needed to show leadership. Rockland cannot afford a city government with a payroll of $6 million, he said.

The council also approved the city’s $3.7 million wastewater treatment plant budget, which will increase sewer user fees by 2.5 percent.

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