Rockland City Hall. Credit: Stephen Betts / BDN

ROCKLAND, Maine ― Rockland voters narrowly approved giving city councilors a pay raise for the first time in more than 40 years.

By a vote of 994 to 974, residents on Tuesday passed a charter amendment that will increase the annual stipend that councilors receive by 500 percent. The raise will make the Rockland council one of the highest compensated in Maine.

Under the new charter amendment, councilors will receive an annual stipend of $4,000, up from $800. The mayor’s stipend would also increase, from $1,000 a year to $4,500.

Proponents of the stipend increase  say it’s needed in order for more people to be able to afford to serve on council. It aims to make the governing board more equitable in terms of representation.

The current council stipend of $800 was set in 1980.

This wasn’t the first time the city attempted to increase pay for councilors. In 2002, a similar ballot measure to increase the stipend for councilors was shot down by a vote of 1,558 to 1,196, according to Bangor Daily News archives.

Compared to other city councils, Rockland’s $800 stipend was low. In Bangor, Belfast and Ellsworth councilors receive $2,000 per year, with the chair getting an extra $500 annually. Augusta city councilors earn slightly more, with a stipend of $200 per month, totaling $2,400 annually. Augusta’s mayoral stipend is an additional $250 per month, for a total of $3,000 annually.

In Portland, city councilors earn a stipend of about $7,000 per year, which adjusts each year based on the cost of living.

The new Rockland stipend goes into effect on July 1, 2022 — which is the start of the city’s next yearly budget cycle.  

At the polls Tuesday, Rockland voters also approved an advisory referendum on the issue of affordable housing by a vote of 1,354 to 654. The question asked whether residents supported “amending Rockland’s zoning regulations to allow smaller, more efficient, more affordable dwellings?”

Meanwhile, voters rejected a charter amendment that would have allowed the city to hold special meetings without having a notice published in a local newspaper, so long as the notice was sent to media outlets that could then distribute the information.

Voters also rejected a charter amendment that would have allowed the City Council to borrow bonds of up to $350,000 without seeking voter approval. Currently, that borrowing threshold is $100,000.