ROCKLAND, Maine — An average Rockland homeowner can expect to pay about $100 more in property taxes this year after approval of the 2014-15 municipal budget.
A divided Rockland City Council gave final approval Monday evening to a $10.8 million budget for 2014-15 but not before taking criticism from a pair of citizens over spending and operations at the dump. The vote was 3-2 with Councilors Elizabeth Dickerson and Louise MacLellan-Ruf voting against approval.
“Unless we cut major dollars, Rockland will no longer be a place people will want to go. Our taxes will go beyond Venus and all the way to Mars,” resident Steve Carroll said.
Carroll said with the city facing future higher costs associated with the imminent closure of its quarry landfill, the “mega problems” at the wastewater treatment plant and repairs to Old County Road, the city needs to cut millions of dollars from the operational budget.
Adele Grossman Faber, a former Rockland city councilor, criticized councilors for allowing the quarry landfill to be nearly filled by demolition debris from outside companies at sweetheart deal rates. She said the landfill had a 50-year life expectancy about a decade ago, and that has dropped to about five years because of the large volume of debris trucked in at prices well below market levels.
Faber said that instituting pay per bag or sharply increasing annual sticker fees is not the answer to deal with the bad decisions made by councilors.
Former Mayor Brian Harden said there was no way the council could cut millions from the budget. He said he is comforted to know that he will get a quick response if he calls for police.
The budget cuts a vacant half-time assistant to the city manager position, and it eliminates the fire chief post. The fire chief post is being filled on an interim basis by Adam Miceli, who had been assistant chief. Over the next several months, the city is expected to study the creation of a public safety director who would oversee both the police and fire departments.
Last month, supporters of the Rockland Public Library turned out to save a reference library position proposed for elimination.
The $10.8 million budget for 2014-15 is down slightly from the 2013-14 budget, but the property tax rate is expected to rise because of more money needed for the Regional School Unit 13 budget as well as a decline in taxable property.
Interim City Manager Tom Luttrell said the projected tax rate, to be formally set in August, will be $20.16 per $1,000 of assessed value. This is up to from the current rate of $19.52. A person owning a home assessed at $150,000 would see the property’s tax bill jump $96, reaching $3,024.
Part of the increase in the rate is because of a sharp drop in taxable property in the city, Rockland Assessor Dennis Reed said. The amount of taxable property declined by $8.2 million with the relocation of Walmart to Thomaston, the conversion of the Strand Theatre to a nonprofit corporation, and a dramatic increase in businesses qualifying for a state program to exempt business equipment from personal property taxes.