Open letter to Maine legislators

By Valli Geiger | Apr 27, 2019

To Members of the Maine Appropriations Committee and the Joint Taxation Committee:

Good morning, my name is Valli Geiger. I am a member of the Rockland City Council, and former mayor, here today representing Mayor Lisa Westkaemper and the city of Rockland.

Rockland is in many ways a thriving city, its renaissance after the collapse of the fishing industry in the '80s is nothing short of miraculous. Going from a city with half of Main Street empty and boarded up to becoming the arts capital of Maine and a dining destination.

But we are struggling. Our population is declining yearly, from a peak of 9,300 in 1950 to fewer than 7,200 today. Eighty percent of our elementary school students are eligible for reduced-price or free lunch. Our median household income is $41,000, versus $52,000 for the county as a whole.

We are a service center. While fewer than 3,000 households fund our city budget, our infrastructure and services provide for more than 16,000 people working and seeking services during the day, and 25,000 during the summer. New housing is not being built. Current housing is becoming seasonal. One of our large employers chose not to do a planned expansion because of lack of workforce.

Our sewer system, water infrastructure, police force and fire department are too small for our daily and summer populations, but too large for a population of 7,200 residents to support. Our roads are appalling, our sidewalks crumbling, our equipment aging. We are not dealing with sewer/storm water separation, we are behind in creating fiberoptic broadband, we are deferring maintenance.

Our mill rate is $23.08/$1,000 valuation, our property tax for a house valued at $150,000 is $3,500.

Our mill rate is high, despite holding the city budget over the last five years to between 0 and 2.9 percent. It continues to rise, as the school budget and county budgets are increased 3 to 7 percent yearly. Sixty percent of the property tax goes toward school and county services.

It cannot continue. We are at a tipping point. We cannot delay infrastructure repair and improvements any longer. Without the restoration of municipal revenue sharing, our mill rate will continue to rise, our population will continue to fall, driving out the working class, residents on fixed incomes and losing our future as young workers and families move to surrounding communities. This drives up costs to the county and state through sprawl, crowded roads and the isolation of the old, forced out of service centers and easy access to friends, community, medical care, social services and provisions.

The hollowing out of service centers happens slowly. At first, cities cut some services, delay maintenance, defer infrastructure projects, slow down road repaving and repair, fail to replace city employees. But finally, when all the tricks have been tried, when any remaining fat has been trimmed, what is left but a shabby, aging city with high taxes and bad roads? Then, the decline happens fast and feels sudden.

Given its coastal location, Rockland will continue to be a desirable place to live, but it will go from a year-round working and middle class community to a city given over to wealthy, seasonal residents, with half of Main Street and neighborhoods going dark most of the year.

Five percent, the municipal revenue share as defined in statute, would be for us, $1.35 million; instead, in 2018, we received 2 percent, or $500,000. We send $28 million in sales tax revenue to you, we ask for 5 percent back. Please honor statute and commit to returning municipal revenue sharing to 5 percent.

Rockland City Councilor Valli Geiger is a former mayor of the city.

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Comments (2)
Posted by: Kendall Merriam | May 04, 2019 16:20

Why is the mayor absent from presentations to the Maine Legislature?

Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | Apr 30, 2019 10:57

Yes, we are at a tipping point; especially those of us trying to survive retirement in homes we have owned for decades. Now over a 1/2 million dollar "unexpected" bill for RSU 13?  If that had been  a deficit in what the state should have paid us would it have been missed so easily? I think not.

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