City manager: Governor's budget shifts $1.1 million onto local taxpayers
Rockland — In his Jan. 14 report to city council, City Manager James Smith said he was extremely disappointed by the governor's proposal to suspend state revenue sharing.
Gov. Paul LePage, seeking extensive state budget cuts, has proposed suspending revenue sharing payments to towns for two years. State revenue sharing gives towns back a portion of the sales taxes collected in their communities. In addition, the homestead exemption and commercial excise taxes would be cut.
Smith said this is really a tax shift that would place an additional burden of $1,114,000 on the property taxpayers in Rockland. He said to maintain present city services under this proposal, it would mean $215 in increased property taxes to anyone owning a home assessed at $150,000. That would just be to cover the municipal budget, not taking into consideration any increases in school or county funding, he said Jan. 15.
To cut city services to offset the cost increase would mean eliminating multiple entire departments — the library, assessment department, fish pier and legal department, he said.
"That's not cutting fat," Smith told the city council. "That's cutting lean muscle."
In a phone interview Jan. 15, the city manager said the state started tinkering with the revenue sharing laws eight years ago under Gov. John Baldacci to help balance the budget. That should never have happened, Smith said, because the municipality has no other way of raising revenue to offset these costs.
He also noted as a service center, Rockland raises a great deal of money in sales taxes in the county.
With the cuts to school funding, Smith said it would amount to a $526 increase for the property taxpayer with a $150,000 home.
Elizabeth Dickerson, who currently serves as both city councilor and the District 47 State House representative, said she felt she was in an awkward position in this discussion. She noted she has been posting information at elizabethdickerson.com.
Councilor Larry Pritchett said the local sales tax money that comes back in revenue sharing is really the community's money.
In other business, the council voted 5-0 to authorize $90,000 for repair and replacement of electrical control equipment at city pump stations. The money will be taken from the city Wastewater CIP Repair and Replacement Reserve Fund and will repair and upgrade controls for the Park Street and Glenwood Avenue pump stations.
The Park Street station, close to the harbor, is the city's largest and Glenwood receives the leachate from the landfill.
Pritchett said these are critical pieces of the city's infrastructure. Without the upgrades, the city could face higher repair costs in the future, or worse, wastewater impacting the environment.
A public hearing was held concerning proposed sidewalks outside the Recreation Center on White and Limerock streets, around the playground. The project is being funded through a Maine Department of Transportation grant.
Andrew Hedrich from Gartley & Dorsky presented the preliminary plan for the project and answered questions.
Part of the project will include crosswalks on Limerock Street next to the Recreation Center. Councilors expressed concerns about placement of a proposed crosswalk close to the intersection with Union Street at the bottom of the steps to the center. They felt that could endanger pedestrians.
Councilors also wanted to see the sidewalk added to go from Limerock Street along White Street up to the library. Hedrich noted that anything not included as part of the MDOT project could end up costing the city funds.
He said he would work on the proposed changes, and the plan could be finalized in two or three months and receive funding in 2014.
The council voted in first reading to approve amendments to ordinances to be tougher on parking violations and homes with rowdy residents. Public hearings are planned for the Feb. 11 meeting before the changes are finalized.
Among the changes, people with four or more unpaid parking tickets may face having a "boot" placed on their car that prevents it from being driven until the tickets are paid. The present rule is five tickets.
Another proposed rule change would define a "disorderly house" as any building which the police have visited three or more times in any 60-day period or 10 or more times in a year in situations created by the owner, tenants or guests.
The existing law states that it would have to be visited by police five or more times in 30 days. The proposed change adds teeth to help police enforce order and protect neighbors from ongoing disturbances, according to city officials.
In other business, Smith said paving work on Main Street and Union streets will take place May 1 to July 1 with the work being done mostly at night from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. to keep from affecting local businesses. The pavement being used is expected to last eight to 10 years.
Mayor Will Clayton started the meeting by warning residents that the ice is not yet safe for ice fishing, and Pritchett said that is really a statewide issue that couldn't be solved simply by going up north.
Clayton said the meeting on school safety will likely be held Wednesday, Jan. 30 with about 30 people from fire departments, EMS, police, school and city attending. The meeting is being held as a result of the recent school shooting in Connecticut. It will not be public due to sensitive security information at the meeting.
News Editor Daniel Dunkle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on twitter at @DanDunkle.