ROCKLAND —What the Rockland City Council giveth, the City Council can taketh away.

The Council gave final approval Wednesday evening, June 22, to a 2022-2023 municipal budget of $15.75 million, an 8.7% increase from the current 2021-2022 budget. The amount of property taxes needed to pay for the budget is up 5.2%.

A person with a home assessed at $200,000 would see the tax bill increase $240, reaching $4,760, not including any reduction for a homestead or other exemption.

No one from the public attended the meeting which included a formal public hearing opportunity.

At the final budget meeting of the year, Councilors approved reductions of $355,000. This follows a May 25 meeting when they added $513,000 from what City Manager Tom Luttrell originally proposed.

One of the cuts was the amount of pay increases for staff. The Council reduced the cost-of-living increase given to employees from 8% to 7%. The Council also reduced the weekly stipend for police officers from $200 to $150.

Interim Police Chief Joel Neal warned Councilors the city needs to increase pay to retain the officers it has. He said the department is down to 10 officers, and detectives have now been assigned to patrols because of the lack of officers. He said not since he has been with the department has the city been without a criminal investigative division. He said the city invested thousands of dollars for training for the investigators. Officers now must work 12-hour shifts rather than the 10-hour shifts.

“Community members are now waiting hours at times for a response,” Chief Neal said.

He said retail businesses are offering pay greater than starting officers and that unless the city deals with the pay deficiency, the department will not be able to attract new officers.

The Council also approved an increase in the cost of dump sticker from $125 to $145. Councilor Sarah Austin said this will encourage people to use the pay per bag system, and the dump sticker should cost more than the cost of using bags, which reduces the amount of trash the city must ship away for disposal.

The budget was approved 4-1 with Mayor Ed Glaser opposed, citing the increase.

The 8.7% increase in the budget is about the same as the rate of inflation.

The approved budget includes a second full-time code enforcement officer. City Manager Tom Luttrell said last month it was virtually impossible for one person to do the job demands of code enforcement in Rockland. An effort to attract someone for a part-time position has been unsuccessful.

A part-time sustainability coordinator was also added back into the budget. The city manager had cut the position out of his proposed budget since the position has been vacant for a year.

The budget includes money for AIO Food and Energy and for the St. Bernard’s soup kitchen.

The budget eliminated the manager’s proposal to add a full-time assistant recreation director.

The budget also includes hiring an additional three firefighters/emergency medical technicians. This will allow the department to move staff around to create a fourth shift.

The largest department is public services which was approved at $3.7 million which includes waste disposal. The fire department budget was approved at nearly $2.6 million. The police department budget was approved at nearly $2.6 million. Debt service was approved at nearly $1.4 million.

The library budget was approved at $649,000. The finance department was approved at $636,000. The code enforcement office was approved at $445,000. The harbor and waterfront budget was approved at $362,000. The recreation budget was approved at $288,000.

Rockland department heads attended the June 22 meeting. They include, from left, Fire Chief Chris Whytock, Harbormaster Ryan Murry, Recreation Director Donald Prescott, Library Director Amy Levine,  Public Services Director Todd Philbrook, and Police Chief Joel Neal.  Photo by Stephen Betts