Rockland city councilors gave preliminary backing May 25 to a $10.1 million municipal budget that retains nearly the same level of services but that will require more taxes from property owners.

Coupled with a proposed higher school budget, the average homeowner in Rockland will pay an additional $110 in property taxes.

The increase in the municipal budget was fueled by higher gasoline, diesel and oil prices, rising health insurance expenses, pay increases, and a decline in state revenue aid.

The council voted 3-2 after more than three hours of discussions May 25 to give preliminary adoption to the $10,117,317 budget package. Councilors Elizabeth Dickerson and Larry Pritchett voted against the budget.

A formal public hearing and final adoption is set for Wednesday, June 22 at city hall. The city budget year begins July 1.

Mayor Brian Harden praised the budget vote, saying it was only $5,000 more than what City Manager Rosemary Kulow had recommended about six weeks earlier.

“Councilors were very thoughtful in their discussions. The reviews went smoothly,” the mayor said.

The council agreed to reinstate a public works light equipment operator position that the manager had deleted from her proposed budget. That added about $54,000 to the manager’s budget.

Councilors also added in $4,500 to keep the library open on Sundays and added $5,000 for additional books to be purchased.

The council also added in $21,000 to provide non-union workers with a 3 percent raise to match the 3 percent that unionized workers will receive based on a previously negotiated labor contract. Kulow had recommended a 1.5 percent increase for the non-union workers.

Harden said it was only fair that all employees receive the same increase.

The only change in staffing in the proposed 2011-2012 budget from the current 2010-2011 package is the elimination of one vacant secretary position for the police department. The budget also calls for reduced evening and weekend hours for the recreation center.

The mayor noted the city council was able to reinstate some items to the budget May 25 after it was decided to shift $148,000 that was in the general city debt repayment budget — for a sewer project on Maverick Street — to the sewer budget. The sewer budget is paid for largely through user fees and not property taxes. Harden said he does not expect the shift to increase sewer rates because of a large reserve the treatment plant budget maintains.

The budget also includes the addition of a part-time position that will be responsible solely for handling general assistance cases. That position is currently handled by the manager’s administrative assistant who is retiring next month. The administrative position will be retained. The move will add about $13,000 to the budget.

Councilor Dickerson said she is concerned about the amount of spending, saying that the shift of money from the general budget to the sewer fees does not represent a savings. She said it was similar to last year when the council shifted money for the transfer station out of the general budget and into a new, separate transfer station account paid for by dump user fees.

“It became the smoke in mirrors to say ‘Oh goody look, we just gained 148 thousand’ and go ahead on a spending spree. I mentioned that it didn’t matter whether the money came from the general obligation taxes or the sewer user fees, someone was going to have to pay it back, and generally speaking that ‘someone’ is often the same person who pays the tax bill,” Dickerson said.

Dickerson said she also voted against the budget because of the added pay increase given, saying the overall package was a good one for the non-union workers.

The councilor said she also opposed the $2 million bond package that will be put before voters for paving roads. She said the city could make do with less than $800,000 in paving, noting that the state is going to be doing some on its own this year. Dickereson said she fears that putting a large road paving bond on the same ballot as one for a public works garage and salt and sand shed would threaten those needed buildings.

In addition to borrowing money for paving, the council also is expected to ask voters to approve a $2.6 million bond for a new public works garage and $300,000 for a salt and sand shed.

The repayment on that total of $4.9 million in bonds — if approved by voters for paving, a public works garage, and salt and sand shed — would not be made in the 2011-2012 budget but would begin with 2012-2013. The estimated annual cost for repayment of those bonds is $531,000.

Pritchett said he voted against the overall budget because he could not support adding $560,000 to the property taxes Rockland citizens will pay, especially in this weak economy and especially with the proposed increase in the school budget.

He was unsuccessful in getting a majority of the council to reduce the solid waste fees.

If the city budget is given final approval as it stands and the Regional School Unit 13 budget is approved as recommended, the city tax rate is projected to increase from its current $18.20 per $1,000 of assessed valuation to $18.87, an increase of 67 cents. A person with a home assessed at $165,000 would pay an additional $110 for a total tax bill of $3,113, which does not take into consideration the homestead exemption.

The largest portion of the increase is due to the city’s share of the school budget increasing. The amount of property taxes proposed to pay for the municipal budget is projected to increase nearly 4 percent to $6.5 million. The amount of money the city will pay RSU 13 is projected at $7.3 million. Another $692,000 goes to Knox County.

The overall city budget of $10,117,317 is a 3 percent increase from the $9,811,269 budget approved last year by the council.

The proposed budgets for the larger individual departments are:

• Police $1,912,174, up 6 percent.

• Public works $1,576,225, up 1 percent.

• Fire $1,435,775, up 4 percent.

• Debt repayment $932,488, down 7 percent.

• Lights and hydrants $593,894, down 2 percent.

• Library $595,835, up 4 percent.

• Recreation $371,481, up 3 percent.

• Code $200,858, up 4 percent.

The sewer budget is recommended at $3,522,241.

The transfer station fund, which is paid for through dump stickers and the per-ton fees to commercial haulers, is proposed at $2,065,250.