Two recent meetings in Rockland summed up the challenges facing government officials who have to balance the demand for services and the calls for lower taxes.

At this week’s Rockland City Council meeting, Councilors Elizabeth Dickerson, Brian Harden and Eric Hebert told the city’s two legislative representatives — Sen. Chris Rector and Rep. Edward Mazurek — that they would prefer an increase in the state’s sales tax rather than more cuts in either municipal revenue sharing or state education aid.

The councilors’ point was that any further cuts in state money would mean that local services would have to be paid for by increases in property taxes. Councilors expressed opposition to that shift in costs.

Mazurek, a former councilor and mayor of Rockland, said he understood the sentiment of councilors.

“I’ve been on your side and it was difficult,” Mazurek said. “And it’s difficult on this side.”

At last week’s Regional School Unit 13 board meeting, member Tess Kilgour of Rockland said that before she got on the board she would attend meetings and be vocal about issues. She said when she got on the board she realized how much more difficult it was to make a decision because the board was provided much more information than citizens generally had time to gather.

This is the crux of the challenge facing elected officials.

The classic quote on this subject came more than 20 years ago at a City Council meeting. I have used this quote on several occasions to point out the challenge.

A  frequent critic of the council stood up at a council meeting and blasted councilors for the high property taxes in Rockland. When she sat down, another member of the public stood up and complained that her road had not been plowed in as timely a manner as she would have liked. The initial speaker then stood up and made the same complaint.

Citizens demand services but are not willing to pay for them. Elected officials realize that something has to give.

Let’s look at the council request. Some of the councilors urged the Legislature to enact an increase in the state’s sales tax, arguing that it is fairer than the property tax.

The only way to lower a person’s property tax is to sell a home and find a less expensive property. Most people would argue that citizens should not have to sell off their homes because of taxes.

People can certainly reduce their sales tax burden by purchasing fewer items. Most food is exempt from the state’s sales tax so people would not go hungry if the tax were increased.

The Legislature tried addressing the state’s tax system last year by expanding the sales tax to cover services such as auto repairs. In exchange, the top rate of the state’s income tax would be decreased.

The supporters of this change — who included most Democratic legislators including Mazurek — argued that the expansion of the sales tax would collect money from out-of-state residents who spend time in Maine. And any added cost to Maine residents would be more than offset by the cut in the income tax.

Opponents — who included most Republicans including Rector — said they doubted the proposition that Maine residents would end up paying less.

Opponents collected enough signatures to force a people’s veto referendum. That will be held June 8. If the repeal is successful, the current state tax system, which has been much derided for decades, will continue unchanged. The people behind the repeal effort — Fed Up With Taxes — also successfully repealed an increase in the beer and soda tax a few years ago.

At the school level, the RSU 13 administration has attempted to take steps to deal with a looming $2.5 million budget gap for the next school year. One effort to curb expenses was to propose the consolidation of Rockland District High School and Georges Valley High School. There are classes with low enrollments being offered at both high schools that could be combined if the schools were consolidated.

The specific amount of money to be saved has not been projected — a point that has some members concerned. But clearly if you have one teacher in Rockland teaching advanced math or science courses to a few students and four miles away a teacher in Thomaston is teaching the same material to a few students, money would be saved if those students were combined and taught by one teacher.

But parents have turned out to criticize the plan.

If the district does not make significant changes and reduce spending, taxpayers in the six communities of RSU 13 will be faced with a steep property tax hike next summer. A proposed tax hike during the worst economic downturn in more than 70 years will likely not be welcomed by the general public.

And city councilors know that when property taxes increase in Rockland, the councilors take the brunt of the criticism even though most of the money goes to the school. Councilors have no authority over the school budget other than as citizens who can speak out and vote at referendums.

How the conundrum will play out is uncertain. Gov. John Baldacci has made it clear that he will veto any proposed tax hike. The Democrats do not have enough votes to override his veto so there will certainly be no tax hike this year. The majority of the public has shown it is not willing to pay a few more cents on its beer or soda to pay for services.

How RSU 13 will deal with its budget dilemma is far more uncertain. The state will not come to the district’s rescue. In the end, those citizens with children in the school system and those without children will be at odds.

So while you enjoy your beer and soda, mull this challenge.