Rockland looks to reserves to restore city jobs
Rockland — The Rockland City Council postponed a preliminary vote May 26 on the proposed 2010-2011 municipal budget but some councilors hope the long dormant reserve accounts can offer some relief.
The council had been scheduled to preliminarily adopt the budget this week but decided there were still too many unanswered questions. Chief among those was whether to pay for dump operations through a per ton commercial hauling fee and an increased fee for the annual resident dump sticker rather than through property taxes.
The council also wanted more time to consider whether to charge the Maine Lobster Festival for services such as police, fire, and emergency medical services.
Festival Board President Tim Carroll, Vice President Bob Oxton, Rockland Police Chief Bruce Boucher and Fire Chief Charles Jordan Jr. met May 27 to discuss what services will be provided. Carroll said the city wants the festival to pay $13,800 for extended police coverage during the parade, and for fire and emergency medical services at both ends of the city during the parade. There will not be a city EMS tent on the festival grounds this year.
That $13,800 figure will be presented to the council, which will make the decision on whether to charge the festival. Carroll said the festival will pay the money if that is the council's decision, but reiterated that the festival adopted its budget in October and its money has already been committed.
He said if the festival is required to pay this year he would like discussions about services and costs for future years to resume soon after this year's event.
This year the organization will clean the parade route, thus not using the services of public works.
During the public comment portion of the May 26 meeting, two supporters of the Maine Lobster Festival urged the council to not charge the organization for services.
Brian Messing of Rockland cited the economic benefits to local businesses, the contributions to city projects, and the pride the festival brings to the city.
Alice Knight of Rockland cited a long list of projects the festival has done for the city.
"I'd hate to see Rockland bill its biggest event out of business," Knight said.
The festival has contributed $927,000 to city projects during the past 12 years, Carroll said.
The proposed 2010-2011 city budget included $36,718 in charges to the Maine Lobster Festival. This included $14,822 for the police department, $12,000 for use of the public landing, $6,000 for fire and emergency medical services, and $3,896 for public works. Councilors were in agreement that the $12,000 fee for using the public landing should be waived since it's not an actual cost.
The city budget also includes revenues for fees for the Summer Solstice for $1,760 and Parade of Lights for $1,520. Other events such as the Maine Boats, Homes and Harbors Show and the North Atlantic Blues Festival do not have fees waived.
The 2010 festival is scheduled to start Aug. 4 and run through Aug. 8 at Harbor Park. This will be the 63rd annual festival; the first one was held in Camden before it moved to Rockland.
Councilor Brian Harden cited $34,294 remaining in the traffic improvement reserve account that was established in 1995 to pay for a study of the potential landslide risk along Waldo Avenue. He also called for using $47,021 from the Custom House Parking Lot reserve account. Money paid by people who lease spaces in that lot, across from the post office, goes into that account.
Harden said this money could be used to preserve two positions that are proposed to be cut from public works, a police patrol position that is vacant but is not recommended for filling this year because of budgetary constraints, and perhaps other items cut from the budget.
Councilor Elizabeth Dickerson voiced some concern, saying it was a slippery slope to use reserve funds for these purposes.
Dickerson also voiced concern about shifting the debt service for the transfer station from the property tax to being paid for by user fees and then wanting to use the money saved in property taxes to spend on other purposes. She noted that the debt will have to repaid.
The council is scheduled to discuss the use of reserve funds, the dump fees and the festival fees at its preliminary adoption meeting set for Wednesday, June 2 at 6:30 p.m. at city hall.