A group of about 40 non-voting Rockport property owners and taxpayers attended a special meeting of the Select Board on July 23 to express thoughts and concerns to municipal officials. It was the first time such a meeting had been held in Rockport.

Referring to themselves as "part-timers," "the away's" or "summer people," some of the first audience members to speak expressed a feeling of a disconnect from the community, town politics and worry over increasing property taxes. But as the meeting drew to a close, people expressed gratitude that such a meeting was held, and that they had the opportunity to meet one another and the officials present.

The meeting was the idea of Select Board Chairman Doug Cole, who explained to the crowd he thought it was important that individuals who spend a portion of their time in Rockport and pay taxes should have the opportunity to communicate directly with municipal officials.

"This is a bit of an experiment for us — we've never done this before, and depending on how we feel about it, we can continue this as an annual tradition," said Cole, who added that the idea for the meeting came to him after observing how other communities with large seasonal populations such as Cape Cod hold similar forums.

"The people who come here for the summer contribute so much to the fabric of the community that we call Rockport," said Cole, who, with a sense of humor, reminded the audience that 200 years before, the country fought a war based on taxation without representation — a tenet that was in many ways applicable to those in attendance

Joined by two of the five Selectmen, Jeff Hamilton and Mark Kelley, Cole led the meeting and brought microphones to members of the audience whose questions he answered personally. The first person to speak, Bob Jackson, said that he felt like a 'second class citizen.'

"I believe I've been discriminated against. I've been prevented from speaking at meetings until a default was changed," said Jackson.

After making it clear that the meeting he was referring to was the annual Town Meeting, Town Manager Rick Bates explained that in order for non-voters to speak at such a forum, a decision needs to be made by the voters present, pursuant to town policy.

"I don't care about the policy, I want to know what you think, do you think this is right? Can or will you change this," demanded Jackson. Cole responded that he and Bates would look into the policy, and said he felt it was important that all voices be heard.

Audience member Gary Dunton said that it was important to keep in mind how the municipality and its departments (police, fire, public works) continue to manage the town even when he and his fellow part-time residents are gone.

Following concerns over increasing tax rates, Cole explained that only approximately 26 percent of the taxes paid by audience members are tied to functions of the municipality: 67 percent is represented by the schools and the education budget and 7 percent is paid to the county for emergency dispatch services. He added that the municipal budget had only increased by 2.6 percent from the previous year.

Some ire was expressed over the cost of the new Camden Hills Middle School, and said that the Select Board should have had the SAD 28 School Board set their own mil rate for the construction and raise funds without help from the town. Cole explained that the School Board is its own, publicly-elected entity, and that the Select Board doesn't have that ability.

The majority of people who spoke were residents of Florida, Pennsylvania and Texas. According to a list compiled by town officials, there are 549 non-voting taxpayers in Rockport; Rockport's population of voting residents is approximately 3,200. Audience member Judy Burgess pointed out that the 549 figure only represents homes owned by taxpayers and didn't take into account additional persons residing there.

Seasonal resident Leanne Dunton, who is a member of the Rockport Garden Club, said that she wants an electrical box located near the Andre the Seal statue relocated in Harbor Park. She added that she would like some sort of flower arrangements returned to the bridge in downtown Rockport, where flower boxes were once planted. Hamilton, who serves on the Harbor Committee said that the utility box will be moved, and Bates said he would look into placing poles on either end of the bridge, from which the Garden Club could hang flower baskets.

"Because I own a house here but I have another home where I live in the winter, I am paying taxes twenty-four seven, for services I'm not receiving…but I love Midcoast Maine and I have told thousands of people about this area. I applaud you for stepping up and holding this meeting, and I'm disappointed more people didn't show up," said Patricia Kelly.

After discussing plans for the proposed Rockport Public Library, the availability of cemetery plots in the Sea View Cemetery, the meeting adjourned with a round of applause for the Select Board and the Town Manager. Many attendees added their names to an email list to be informed of future meetings, and were reminded that wherever they are they can view meetings and comment remotely via the town's Livestream video system.