Addressing concerns about taxes

By Valli Geiger | Mar 15, 2018

I received a heartfelt letter this week from a retired taxpayer living on a fixed income. He was deeply concerned about rising property taxes. This is Part 1 of my response:

Thank you for your thoughtful letter. I share your concerns. I think you are right that we cannot continue on in this way. The choices are stark, and I don’t see any immediate easy solutions.

When I look at Rockland over the last 10 years, this is what I see: a city services budget that generally goes up between zero and 3 percent a year. A county, whose budget goes up 3 to 7 percent a year and a school district whose budget goes up 5 to 7 percent a year. Both the school and the county budgets are rolled into the city’s, so that your tax bill includes all three. Since the school and county account for about 58 percent of the entire budget, the city controls the remaining 42 percent. Less than half.

The state is supposed to fund 55 percent of the school’s costs of operation. It never has. Rockland schools have received about 16 to 19 percent of their funding from the state, leaving the property taxpayers to make up the rest. If the state funded education anywhere near its stated commitment, Rockland would see millions of dollars in school revenue.

Rockland’s revenue comes from property taxes, excise taxes, fees and money from the state. The other thing that has occurred that has put great pressure on the city happened in Augusta. The state is supposed to return 5 percent of the sales tax generated in the city. This is called Municipal Revenue Sharing. During an economic recession, the Baldacci administration requested of towns and cities that the revenue-sharing be cut to 3 percent that year. It has never returned to 5 percent, indeed, the current governor, Gov. Paul LePage has tried to cut it to zero every year. It currently stands at 2 percent. This missing 3 percent equals about a million dollars a year that Rockland does not receive. It forces Rockland’s 3,500 households to provide services for a city where 16,000 work and shop every day, increasing to 25,000 in the summer. The more successful we are, the more services needed, yet all that sales tax money goes to Augusta and does not come back.

We are not allowed by state law to have our own local sales tax to take advantage of all the shoppers and tourists who shop, eat and stay here. We are not allowed by state law to require nonprofits to pay property taxes.

I think Rockland has tried to do everything it could think of to keep the current level of services going, with minimal city budget increases. This has led to delayed maintenance, crumbling roads, crumbling sidewalks, a sewer treatment pipe system coming to the end of its useful life and rising transfer station fees. I think we are coming to the end of the road with the strategy of delaying in the hope that the state returns to providing its share.

The last three years, the Legislature has had bills before it returning revenue-sharing to 5 percent and increasing state school funding. Some years they pass, some years they have been defeated, every year the governor has made it clear he would veto any such bills.

Our current local legislators both support increasing revenue-sharing and increasing the state’s share of school funding.

This year we will have to ask hard questions. This year, after 10 years of a revolving door of city managers, we have a city manager who knows and loves Rockland, bringing stable city leadership. There are no easy answers.

Thank you for taking the time to write such a thoughtful letter.

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Comments (5)
Posted by: Kendall Merriam | Mar 17, 2018 19:20

Take a look at Hayward's accounting of what is owed the city and not enforced. Wow! (See news under volunteer boards)

Posted by: Valli Genevieve Geiger | Mar 17, 2018 17:07

Mary, I am not sure what you are trying to say. The school board creates a budget and it is voted on by residents of Rockland in late spring. If it passes, that amount is added to the city and county budgets and the total is what creates your annual property tax bill.

Valli Geiger

Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Mar 17, 2018 16:30

The school budgets used to be separate. What has changed? Do the town fathers abuse the school tax money for the will of the Board?

Posted by: James York | Mar 16, 2018 21:42

Our greatest natural resource is our harbor- we need to make it a revenue stream for the city.  We are advertised as the 'lobster capital of the world' but just a few miles south far more lobster boats leave Owls Head, Spruce Head and T Harbor than leave our harbor.  We have a municipal pier; bait and transportation infra-structure right there for fisherman and dock operators, why can't the city figure out how to get a couple of quarters our of the hundreds of thousands of pounds landed each year in and around the bay.  Putting locals ahead of tourists is a winning formula for growth in our city


Posted by: Kendall Merriam | Mar 16, 2018 16:50

Here's a hard question: Why are tax payers $$$ being used for a lost cause? The city works department has been paying staff to fill some of the city's pot holes with hot patch. In under a week, traffic dislodges this loose tar from the potholes. And more tax payer $$$ are dislodged from residents' pockets.

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