So what's the point?

Imagine a government that has only one branch. A government that has no legislative branch, no judicial branch. A government that is ruled solely by an executive branch, a five-member group that is omnipotent. A group whose decisions are final, and from which citizens have no recourse. You think to yourself, he must be talking about the Politburo Standing Committee in China, but then you remember that they currently have seven members. Is there really such a government model? The answer is the Rockland City Council.

As a newcomer to Rockland politics, I have been surprised by the outright power and control these five individuals have over the lives of the citizens of Rockland. Particularly disturbing is how often they ignore the advice of city employees who are experts in their field, and how often they ignore the recommendations of the Comprehensive Planning Commission, which is responsible for Rockland’s Master Plan.

The Rockland City Charter dictates that the Comprehensive Planning Commission “shall prepare a comprehensive master plan” for the city. This plan is exactly that, a “master plan.” It is the vision for the future of Rockland. The charter is clear in stating that the City Council cannot in any way change the master plan without the recommendation of the Comprehensive Planning Commission on the proposed change. Unfortunately, the charter does not provide Rockland citizens or commission members any recourse when the City Council ignores, as it has done repeatedly, the informed recommendation of the Comprehensive Planning Commission.

So, my first question is this: What’s the point? What is the point of anyone's getting involved in any committee or any citizen group in Rockland, if this all-powerful council simply ignores the recommendation of its committees, commission and the voices of the citizens of the city? What’s the point of writing an email that does not get answered or speaking at a City Council meeting when you know they have already made up their minds?

The Comprehensive Planning Commission has embarked on updating the current master plan. Members have spent countless hours studying the current plan, holding neighborhood meetings to hear the voices of the people of Rockland, and have begun to write a new plan for the future of Rockland. At the same time, the City Council is rapidly pushing to amend city zoning ordinances that would allow more infill throughout Rockland and the introduction of “tiny houses” into the Rockland landscape.

So, my second question is this: What’s the rush? Why push through zoning legislation that will not only forever change the look of our neighborhoods, but also put additional strains on our infrastructure? Why not place a moratorium on all zoning changes until such time as the Comprehensive Planning Commission has completed its work and the voices of the citizens of Rockland have been heard?

All too often leaders mistake their own vision for that of the people they represent, and all too often, they are wrong. Rockland has a vision. It is called the Comprehensive Plan. Maybe it’s time to start following it.

Gary Sousa

Rockland

Ed. note: The following three letters, which were mailed to state Department of Transportation Commissioner David Bernhardt Jan. 31, were shared with us for publication.

Islanders object to new ferry rates

It makes sense to raise Maine State Ferry Service ticket rates and we understand that. Rates haven’t gone up in a long while and there is a $700,000 shortfall looming.

There are many categories of passage: adults, children, cars, little trucks, big trucks, freight trucks, fuel trucks, one way, round trip bicycles, island originated, mainland originated, and more. It makes sense to raise the price of every ticket, every category of travel, by a given percentage, whatever it takes to make up the shortfall. In this instance that is 17%. What makes less sense, however—is what the Ferry Service has proposed instead. Some examples:

The cost of a round trip out of state adult ticket will go up 8%, for islanders-it goes up 23%.

The cost of a round trip out of state child ticket will go up 53%, for islanders-it goes up 34%.

The cost of a round trip out of state vehicle ticket will go DOWN 11%, for islanders-it goes UP 6%.

The cost of a round trip out of state truck ticket will go up 9%, for islanders-it goes up 40%.

In addition the Service proposes to distinguish between folks from out of state and Mainers by checking driver’s licenses or other forms of ID. This as a means of determining who gets charged out of state rates more and who doesn’t. The level of stress at the Ferry terminal in Rockland is already very high. The demands on the terminal personnel and line attendants are considerable. During the summer it is much more stressful. The notion that checking the ID’s of every traveller will not needlessly exacerbate that stress is mis-guided. This proposal will diminish confidence, worsen customer relations and encourage scams, readily imagined, to get around it.

The $700.000 shortfall is a problem but it’s a simple problem with a simple solution and we submit that this convoluted proposal is not the answer.

After the public hearing here on the islands last week, our high school math teacher seized the moment to present your Department’s dilemma to his students and ask them how to solve it. We are all very proud to tell you that spirited and constructive deliberation, not only among our own students but also with students from North Haven and Islesboro, has resulted in their recommendation which is in accord with our own and which we have attached. We respectfully ask that you give it your thoughtful consideration.

Andrew Dorr, Vinalhaven Town Manager

Eric Gasperini, chair, Board of Selectmen

Pamela Alley, Selectperson

Phil Crossman, Selectman

Donald Poole, Selectman

Jake Thompson, Selectman

Holly Sault, Executive Director, Vinalhaven Chamber of Commerce

Amy Lear, Chamber President

Angel Turner, Chamber Vice President

Students propose alternative ferry rate schedule

We are a group of island students that have been studying the proposed rate increase for the MSFS. First off, we would like to thank you for deciding to fund the MSFS for the entire 50 percent through the highway fund allowed by law. This shows us that you are generous towards the island residents. However, we have come across some questions and concerns with the proposed increases.

Originally after working out the percentage increase in each of the categories we noticed that the increase, or decrease in some instances, seems inconsistent. Why are some increases so high, while others actually decrease? If you are trying to raise revenue, all fares should be increased to be consistent? We also looked at the different price increases for the price structures of other islands. Could you tell us how the choices to increase the islands at different rates arose? In school, choices around policy that affect student eligibility for sports must be implemented to everyone equally. If we are being fair and equitable to the island residents and property owners, shouldn’t we have the same increases?

We propose to take the revenue estimate of the current ticket structure: $4,456,067 and subtract it from the proposed increase: $5,194,309. We see the shortfall is $738,242 between the current rate and the proposal. Dividing this by the current structure revenue we see that we need to increase cost 16.567%. We have rounded this number to 17%. We believe that if all fares are increased by this percentage the needed revenue will be achieved and the way tickets are sold will not have to be changed. Given the ridership report we received from Mark Higgins, we see that in almost every category there has been positive growth. With this in mind, and the increase of 17%, we believe that even if some people are deterred from the increased cost that we will still be able to raise the needed revenue. In our minds, this is what is fair and equitable to everyone.

We have also taken the time to think about other solutions and have seen first hand how difficult it can be to come up with a change to a system. In reference to comments made by business owners, we tried to look into increasing just passenger and regular vehicle tickets to make a zero increase on commercial trucks that deliver oil and freight. We struggled with this because we did not have all the data on truck length, but were able to find the increase in cost per gallon of fuel and per pound of shipped lobster under the proposed increase. As we worked with the numbers it further confirmed our ideas that the best options would be to increase all fares equally. We do not want our island economy to be unfairly targeted by freight increases of almost 40%.

After our brief effort to find a solution to the freight dilemmas, we have a small understanding about how challenging this can be now. This is why we feel that the proposed ideas about how to adjust the ticket prices for in-state verses out of state residents are unnecessarily difficult. There is already a system in place with which everyone is used to and knows how to work with. Our process can be implemented without changes to the system, but only changes to the prices. As we are sure you have heard, carding people to check the state they came from pits Mainers against some of our island taxpayers. People who do not live on the island year round pay well over half of Vinalhaven property taxes and we feel it is unfair to make these tax payers have to pay more than their neighbor to come to their house. Perhaps something can be done for taxpayers as opposed to what state someone come from to visit our islands if this is something you feel needs to happen.

We have thought about this for a long time and have come up with these ideas. We are proud of them and would love to discuss more with you if you are able.

These ideas are the result of a collaborative effort. Through communicating with everyone involved and not rushing to a decision before the summer visitors start to come, we believe that the missing revenue can be raised from the islands in a fair and equitable manner by a unilateral 17% increase. Please let us know that this idea has been, or will be considered.

Thanks again for your pledge to fund our lifeline 50 percent from the highway fund. We greatly appreciate it!

Vinalhaven (North Haven) (Islesboro) math students

Vinalhaven business owners weigh in

On behalf of the Vinalhaven business community, The Vinalhaven Chamber of Commerce is writing to express our serious concern for the proposed ferry rate increases currently being discussed. Realizing the large deficit now facing the State Ferry Service, we understand the need for a rate increase; however, the specific changes and the magnitude of the increases being discussed would negatively impact the economic stability of our current business community and would hinder the opportunities for the establishment or growth of any new businesses.

The proposed increased freight charges are extremely concerning. The percentage per foot increase that is being suggested will ultimately change the footprint of our island business community. The increase will cause the prices for all items to be raised to a level that will be unaffordable to many or will raise the concern of some being forced to choose between the most basic of necessities: food or heat. Maine ranks 7th in the nation for having the oldest populations. Vinalhaven has been identified as one of the top communities in the state per capita housing this older population. Many of these residents are living on fixed incomes. Their wallets are already stretched to the limits as it stands now – the increased freight charges will only serve to enhance this concerning situation. Families that are struggling to make ends meet will face the same choices. While recent years have seen earning income potentials increase for the lobstering industry which has been a plus for the island, this trend is not guaranteed to continue which would greatly affect those basic need purchases.

In the spirit of entrepreneurship, businesses on Vinalhaven that are vendors of non-basic needs could be forced to close. If the business owners have no source of income, mounting debt, and no foreseeable way to earn money, our island ceases to function. The trickledown effect of this speaks to Maine on a state level as well. Two of Maine’s greatest sources of revenue, the lobstering industry and tourism could be irrevocably affected from these price increases. (I am inserting updated figures for how much VH businesses paid last year in sales and meals and rental taxes) Tourists enjoy the ambiance of the island; they shop, they dine, and they stay overnight. However, they are not as likely to travel to an empty island that can offer no insight to what island life should and could be.

With all of this said, the Chamber acknowledges that this argument is two sided. Without a safe and accessible ferry, island life will be much harder. Tourists will not find us as easily. We want to find a win-win situation for us all. We are asking that you allow the discussion to continue before any rate increases take effect. We are asking you to look and search more options and to talk with business owners as to what those options might look like. There has been no demonstrated basis for the drastic rates in some areas being considered. The Chamber is asking that you take the time required to examine the financial implications for both sides with these proposed increases with an in-depth review of the actual nature of the deficit and how we might work together to rectify this from both sides.

The residents and to a greater extent the businesses on Vinalhaven will be penalized unjustly under the proposed rate increases. A strong economic base for any community or town is pivotal to its success and survival, but an island community is even more dependent on its residents support and spending within that community. Island dollars being spent on the island gives life to the basic economy which in turn gives life to the community. We understand the pressure you are facing to address these budget deficits but we strongly feel these new rates are not the solution. Thank you in advance for considering our request to work together and to eliminate the action of unnecessary cost burdens on the businesses of Vinalhaven. Maine proudly promotes “Maine is Open for Business”. Vinalhaven is simply asking for that opportunity as well.

Vinalhaven Chamber of Commerce

Evokes courage of former Maine congresswoman

The jury is still out on whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign/Trump administration and Russia. However, one thing has become clear over the course of the last year, and that is both are working toward demeaning and undermining institutions of the United States government, including the FBI, CIA and the Department of Justice.

They are are being aided in this endeavor by some Republican members of Congress, to the delight of the Russian government. Wouldn’t this be a perfect time for Republican members of Congress to step into the breach and embrace a Margaret Chase Smith moment and call out the Trump administration and its minions for the great harm they are doing to our nation?

Steven Gifford

Warren

Rockland council should stick to the Comp Plan

First and foremost, I want to thank Jim Kalloch for his letter that begins to expose more of the trickery and game-playing going on at City Hall. The efforts of certain council members to induce their friends and neighbors who think alike and act alike to run for City Council only smacks of interference and a major effort to undermine and perpetuate the always-present (for my 35 years) conflicts of interest in many major areas of this city.

Not only have some current members planned and executed this game-playing but, as in the past, other members of the council, "for the sake of civility and hand-holding," have joined the bandwagon only because they lack the guts and the commitment to the people of Rockland to be individual thinkers wishing to promote the city as a whole and not just Main Street, The Arts District, or the Harbor area. Jim is so correct in admonishing the council members for not using the current Comprehensive Plan as designed and implemented, but they want to sidestep it and make their own personal agenda the direction for this city.

I agree that this mayor is acting way out of her charter-associated guidelines and authority. She, with the help of her new friend and council member, has an agenda they brought with them in dual capacity, having had associated business, and personal dealings that might just make them at least appear to be in cahoots. It is interesting to me that other council members are allowing this twosome to travel in a direction that is not healthy nor legal for this city to go in without serious changes in the Comprehensive Plan.

Jim is correct, as the Comprehensive Plan is very clear in direction and purpose. To alter, or even eliminate, those standards is unfortunately showing their true colors as to their motivation for gaining their positions on the council. Breathing hellfire and brimstone to gain position and then to abuse the authority is no excuse. Like Jim stated: "If this is the image that the mayor wants for her city, then let her move there." Well said.

Dale Hayward

Rockland

Love of God

Love God and Jesus with all our heart, and mind, and soul. We are called to love God and neighbor in the holy Bible's great commandments and to love and respect parents; and we are called to help one another and comfort one another, and to give to the poor, and forgive and pray for one another, and comfort the sick. Also to visit those in prisons and in hospitals. We are to look out for one another. God loves people of all nations, tribes, tongues and skin colors.

The United States Constitution, referred to as the "supreme law of the land," also protects these rights in freedom of religion, etc. Some states' constitutions and international law has protected freedom of religion, such as Maine. The right in age-old cultures, and God's law, to look out for and comfort one's own family is precious and is known for thousands of years. The right to write, call and visit loved ones in assisted living, nursing homes, long-term care facilities, hospitals and other places has been put into other laws also. Under "medicare.gov" online, United States Code (ex. 42 U.S.C. Sec.1396r (c)(3) ), and Code of Federal Regulations (ex. 42 CFR Sec.483.10 (f) ), and Social Security Act, and elsewhere, there are many rights of patients and rights of their families. [Example: also, (42 USC Chapter 138 Sec.14401 (a)(2)

"(a)…Congress finds the following: (2) Assisted suicide, euthanasia, and mercy killing have been criminal offenses throughout the United States and, under current law, it would be unlawful to provide services in support of such illegal activities."]

And Maine state statutes and various other laws exist to help patients' rights, also.

People have the right to visit their families in hospitals and assisted living places and reach them by phone and otherwise and nurture the sick. This is a God-given right and also covered in man's laws for families to visit at "any and all times" (see wording of these laws).

These and other rights are being violated in Maine and elsewhere. Please help defend truth, and help people understand that it is the law.

God loved us first so that we could know love and thus love one another. "…God is love." [1 John 4:8, 16]. Love those who are disabled, sick and aged. Their lives are precious, too. God is a God of life.

Elizabeth Smith

Cushing