In support of Rockland Main Street Inc.

By The Courier-Gazette Editorial Board | May 24, 2018

During budget discussions, city leaders are asked to make some hard choices. They have to balance the needs of property taxpayers, who are already facing a tough burden, and the need to provide essential government services.

Programs and initiatives that have a harder time quantifying all of the things that they do for a community can end up being targeted for cuts. However, it is important to consider several factors in looking for potential budget cuts. One is what harm will the cut do? Another is will this trimming of the budget make any real difference in terms of the tax burden faced by residents.

This year the City Council is considering cuts to the funding for Rockland Main Street Inc., an organization that works to promote Rockland's downtown Main Street businesses and to attract businesses to fill any vacant storefronts.

The city provides about $30,000 per year to this organization, which sounds like a big number, but really is not, in terms of local government spending. Of that, the council has discussed a modest cut of about $5,000 from the contribution.

Rockland Main Street Inc. organizes events, including the Festival of Lights, the construction of the city's Lobster Trap Tree, and the Summer Solstice celebration. It also holds regular meetings with downtown merchants to discuss ways to make the downtown better for those who shop and work there. It works on outreach to businesses looking at the area and on economic and community development. It also brings many valuable hours of volunteer effort to the community.

The real value is that in the time that Rockland Main Street Inc. has been in operation, we have seen the city's downtown thrive, improve and increase its visibility. We would not want to take a step backwards in that area.

With the money coming from downtown TIF dollars, this is an example of something for the downtown that is being paid for by the downtown that benefits from it.

For this reason, we believe the $5,000 saved will not be worth the potential harm to valuable services, and would encourage the City Council to maintain funding for Rockland Main Street Inc.

State should listen more on ferry fees

The Maine Department of Transportation should listen to the people affected by its policy changes, most recently, island residents impacted by a new flat-rate increase in ferry fees.

We understand that flat-rate structure is about as simple as it can get when it comes to implementation. One fee for everyone. Done.

However, as many residents of Islesboro have pointed out, the blanket approach to ferry fees simply doesn't make sense. Distances between the islands and mainland vary greatly, as do the costs to operate the individual ferries.

Let's use the interstate for comparison. Drivers pay different amounts based on where they want to go and how far they travel the road. What if Maine DOT — out of the blue — decided all tolls would be $30, regardless of the distance? Many drivers, we think, would simply stop driving the interstate and seek alternative routes that might be less efficient or less convenient.

The interstate for island residents is the ferry service. While there are other possible methods for travel and transportation of goods, the ferry service is the most efficient and convenient for most. Islanders figure in the costs of commuting, just as regular interstate users budget for tolls as part of their daily commute.

So, what's the harm in considering the suggestion proposed by island students? The proposal would have increased existing fees by about 17 percent, which would cover the projected budget shortfall. In addition, a percentage increase would be much easier for islanders to absorb than the flat rate, which more than doubles the cost of a trip from Islesboro to Lincolnville for a vehicle and driver.

Implementing a percentage increase would not make more work for ferry service staffers, who already collect different amounts. And, perhaps, Maine DOT did consider the percentage increase and rejected it — but if that's the case, a reason should be given.

Comments (4)
Posted by: Mary A McKeever | May 28, 2018 16:40

Small town Rockland is no longer and out of State interests are prevailing, sadly!  I see the pro's and con's of this with back and forth opinions. Perhaps if Rocklander's really want to preserve the harbor and small town awareness, they should attend town meetings and vote to stop the influx of out of state interests. It is your harbor and it is your town. And believe it or not, the area rural small towns shop there and support the economy. Many times I sat in Rockland Harbor and enjoyed the ocean, ships and activities of the small fishing boats. I worked in Rockland and shopped in Rockland and enjoyed social activities in Rockland, but lived many years in Hope. I appreciated Rockland and supported the stores and activities. Yes even the rural surrounding areas have a say in Rockland!

Posted by: Sandra Schramm | May 28, 2018 13:07

RE: Main Street Inc. Amy Files makes some valid points. Doug Curtis Jr. you have not taken a stand, only made a comment. I admire you both!  I first read this and passed on commenting. Then this AM I toured our downtown in prep for the parade today. As I passed through Main St. and saw all that is happening to reinforce Rockland as a destination, I got very sentimental. It is looking great because more and more businesses are helping shape Main St. Then I drove by the Farnsworth properties and considered the non profit aspect and that they do not pay taxes to Rockland but they certainly help put us on and keep us on, the map. And of course then I think of the taxpayers and what we struggle with each year in Rockland as a new budget is prepared and we wonder how much the anticipated tax increase will be.  All parties are stakeholders. Without a Main St. Rockland will blight and our tax burden likely increase even more. Going to Main St for the locals is like going for a day to Boothbay Harbor or Bar Harbor, lots to look at but not so much practical. That is not the shopkeepers fault, it is a sad commentary to the demise of Main Streets in America.  A small shopkeeper can no longer compete to sell us affordable clothing, shoes etc.  They depend on the tourist industry like we depend on big box stores. I am grateful to E.L. Spear, Jensen's Pharmacy and to name a couple of locals that have survived the big box explosion.  It would seem our local restaurants strive hard to attract people to Rockland as well.  We are fortunate to have a lovely downtown but how to protect it.  I was not in favor of the TIF at the time, but I see its effectiveness. The Chamber of Commerce has been tasked with promoting the area. The Council is tasked with protecting the residents while growing our economy and tax base. We have a housing shortage they are tasked with trying to solve. Growth is painful in many ways and it is rather like a Thanksgiving Dinner, there are only so many drumsticks to go around!

As I began to hang out in the city parks my perspective on what Rockland is to our summer visitors changed. I am always proud of our beauty with the ocean as our background and I never tire of our Historic District and our parks or our downtown beauty that is always being improved. Hearing the comments from our visitors reminds me of the task Rockland faces with growth. What is reasonable and what will detract. How to get more employees for our local businesses speaks loud to me as does how to increase housing to support our growth and tax base.

So just what is the compromise or take-a-way from all this. Life is a "rat race". We are all competing on some level for survival. There is that same old report in the news when something big passes that costs the taxpayers, "where were all of you when the subject was discussed and voted on"?  There was a larger turnout this year on the school budget but can residents continue to watch the meetings on TV and not step out as stakeholders and tell the Council what you feel about major topics such as this.  Voting is important to all of us be it local, state or federal.  Conversation stimulates the thought process.  Rockland is having many forums on hot topics and maybe this topic warrants one before any action is taken. Help the Council gain perspective before we beat them up. Where do we as a service center draw the line?  Get out to the June 4 and June 11 meetings and be a part of the process.

Posted by: Doug Curtis Jr. | May 28, 2018 01:47

In regards to Amy's .Question below on how many people on the Courier's editorial board live in Rockland, I can assure you there is at least one. The editor of the paper lives in Rockland. .

Posted by: Amy Files | May 24, 2018 14:03

Out of curiosity -- re: the support for Main Street Inc -- how many of the Courier's editorial board live in Rockland? Personally, I feel that the organization is important to Rockland and that the events it supports are valuable. However, when budget season rolls around and we are often talking about cutting back the library's hours (among other important services), I have to question whether the City should be making decisions on behalf of taxpayers to donate money to outside organizations when we struggle to fund our own infrastructure, city services, etc.. In addition, Main Street Inc., as of late, has been showing up to our City Council meetings and lobbying for/against policy -- working to influence our ordinances -- In that case I would ask why should my taxpayer money go to an organization that is going to be lobbying to influence policy in a way that I do not agree? If Main Street Inc. is going to receive taxpayer money, they should be required to keep out of City business that is not directly related to economic development/infrastructure. They should also steer clear from controversial issues -- like cruise ships. Why should taxpayers who aren't fans of the mega cruise ships see their money donated to an organization who makes it their job to greet and promote them? If one of Main Street Inc's main roles is to act as a business lobby for a handful of businesses in town, then I can't see how it is appropriate for them to receive taxpayer money. But if their main role is to be a community organization -- and genuinely focus on unifying efforts that benefit the larger community -- then taxpayer money may make sense.

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