ROCKLAND, Maine — City councilors approved a $13.7 million municipal budget that will reduce the average property tax bill by about $18.
The 2020-2021 budget, unanimously approved Monday night, is less than a 1-percent increase compared to last fiscal year’s spending plan.
City officials were able to bring down the total budget by about $400,000 since it was initially proposed in March. Given the economic fallout caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, city councilors said they wanted to save taxpayers money wherever they could.
“It’s enormously frustrating to me that we have to nickel-and-dime [the budget] all the time,” City Councilor Valli Geiger said. “The city is held together by duct tape and spit balls.”
While a full-time city planner position was supposed to be added to the city hall staff this year, funding for that position was cut from the budget to find additional cost savings. Despite being the service center for Knox County, Rockland — with a population of about 7,200 — has never had a full-time planner. Just up the coast in Belfast, a city of about 6,800 which holds a similar role as Rockland in Waldo County, a full-time city planner has been on staff for years.
Rockland instead works with planners on a contractual basis when there is a need.
Funding for a lieutenant position within the city’s emergency medical services department was also cut from the 2020-2021 budget.
The city’s public services department, which is responsible for maintaining city infrastructure, had the largest individual departmental budget, totaling about $3 million — up about 7 percent from last year. The increase was largely due to an additional $350,000 that the city is budgeting for road paving projects — a costly problem the city has been trying to address in recent years.
The Rockland Police Department will operate on a $2.1 million budget, an increase of about 1 percent from last year’s budget. The Rockland Fire Department will operate on a similar $2.1 billion budget, a slight increase from last year.
With the full economic impact of the pandemic yet to be determined, city councilors cautioned that next year’s budget cycle will likely not be any easier.
“I don’t see the economy getting better anytime soon,” City Councilor Ed Glaser said. “We’ve got a long year ahead of us.”