Budget cuts split Rockland councilors
Rockland — Tensions were high last week as Rockland city councilors continued their review of the proposed 2010-2011 municipal budget and grappled with trying to maintain services while keeping property taxes in check.
The focus of the May 12 council meeting was public works and the transfer station. The proposed budget for public works calls for eliminating two full-time positions that are expected to become vacant this fall with the retirement of a pair of veteran workers. The department budget also calls for eliminating full-time seasonal help for the summer when the regular employees take vacations.
Another budget review session is scheduled for Wednesday, May 19 at 6:30 p.m. at city hall, with departments H through W to be scrutinized. The sewer budget will be reviewed Monday, May 24 and preliminary adoption is scheduled for Wednesday, May 26 at 6:30 p.m.
During last week's review of the public works budget, Councilors Tom Molloy and Elizabeth Dickerson pointed out the need to keep the budget down to help those people in the community who are struggling financially.
"People are having a hard time putting food on the table. We have to balance different things," Dickerson said.
Councilor Brian Harden cited a long list of projects that public works has to do and said he does not see how it can get to them if the positions are cut. Harden said public works has taken budget cuts before when Molloy has been on the council and then successive councils have had to put out bond issues to catch up on projects that should have been done.
Molloy shot back that he was "not going to take his crap anymore."
Molloy said that every time the council has sat down to review the budget this year it has added money back into the budget.
"There are people out there having a hard time," Molloy said. He noted that earlier in the meeting, Regional School Unit 13 Superintendent Judy Lucarelli had pointed out that 26 employees will be without a job at the end of the school year.
Councilor Eric Hebert said he was very uncomfortable with the proposed cuts, saying that the city would be operating on crisis management.
Councilors have proposed adding $237,698 in spending back into the budget. That includes the two public works positions at $73,500, another $56,573 for the police department, $40,237 in the solid waste payroll and $56,250 for an ambulance.
The additions would add another $52 to the average homeowner's property tax bill compared with what the city manager proposed last month.
Mayor Deborah McNeil asked councilors what their bottom line was on what the budget should be.
Hebert said, however, that cutting things such as road paving will end up costing the taxpayers more money in the long run.
"I'm willing to concede some services but I'm not going to give it all up," Hebert said.
The overall city budget as submitted by the manager was proposed at $11 million, up 1.7 percent. The loss of more than $500,000 in state revenue sharing, however, will mean a great reliance on the property tax.
And the projected jump in Rockland's payments to RSU 13 means the tax rate may reach $18.25 in 2010, up $1.05 (6 percent) from the current $17.20. This means a person owning a home assessed at $150,000 will pay an additional $158 in property taxes.
The proposed public works budget is $1,532,548, down $70,215 from the current 2009-2010 budget.
The transfer station budget also elicited considerable debate as the council wrestled with whether to convert the department into one supported completely by fees rather than property taxes.
Hebert attempted to get councilors to vote on his proposal for commercial dump fees. No vote was taken, however.
Dickerson said more discussion was needed.
"We're making a huge, global change. We don't have to do it tonight," Dickerson said.
The solid waste budget is proposed at $1,449,179, up $84,857 (6 percent).
Preliminary adoption is scheduled for the Wednesday, May 26 meeting with final adoption set for Wednesday, June 16.
The city budget includes $135,352 in the contingency account for cost-of-living increases for municipal employees. City employees agreed to forgo pay raises this year.
The city budget estimates that $13,813,290 in property taxes will need to be raised. The largest amount will be $6,942,917 for RSU 13. This amounts to slightly more than 50 percent of the total taxes raised. The amount of property taxes to be raised for the city is $6,168,165. The city's share of the Knox County budget is $702,208.