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Audit gives glowing review of Rockland finances

Report also shows impact of pandemic on municipal government
By Stephen Betts | Jan 05, 2021
Photo by: Stephen Betts

Rockland — Rockland's finance department received a glowing report from the auditors during a Jan. 4 presentation.

The audit also showed that the city spent less and took in less money during the past budget year, largely because of a slowdown in activities during the spring, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"You're finance department is doing a strong job, they are doing better every year," Auditor James Wadman said at the Rockland City Council's Jan. 4 meeting.

Councilors also praised the finance office. Mayor Ed Glaser said the department has done a stellar job.

The auditors reported that the surplus for the city government reached a record high as of June 30, 2020, reaching $3,186,060. The surplus increased $106,000 from a year earlier.

The surplus now amounts to 13.5% of the amount of money the city raises annually in taxes for municipal, school and county services.

The city spent $836,000 less than the $13.1 municipal million that was budgeted in 2019-2020. Much of that was from savings for positions that were not filled.

Revenues were off $630,000 from what was budgeted.

This includes $96,000 less in motor vehicle excise taxes, because fewer vehicles were registered during the COVID-19 related government shutdown in the spring. The auditor said there has been a major rebound statewide in vehicle registrations from July through the fall.

The audit covers the period from July 1, 2019 through June 30, 2020.

Revenues for the fire department and emergency medical services fell $455,000 short, both because there were fewer ambulance runs and also because the city wrote off old debt. Some of those write-offs were for payments made by Medicare, MaineCare and private insurance companies which pay for services, but not the amounts charged by Rockland.

The city also took in $85,000 less in harbor fees because docks were not placed out as early due to the pandemic shutdown.

The auditor also pointed out that Rockland's debt as well below what it is allowed to be borrowed by state law. The total debt owed by the city is $23.7 million. The single largest amount of that debt is for work done on the wastewater treatment system which amounts to $11.1 million. The wastewater budget is funded through sewer user fees rather than property tax dollars.

The city pays about $1.2 million annually in property taxes for debt repayment, largely for road and sewer line work.

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Comments (11)
Posted by: DALE HAYWARD | Jan 06, 2021 11:25

I would like to send my tax increase bill to Ms Geigger and let her pay it. What a crock of BS. This drive by shooting effected the entire city. Let's get that correct, please. The ones who paid or will someday, when they can afford it, would blow your comments into the sea. THIS IS A GLOWING EXAMPLE OF GENTRIFICATION AT IT'S WORST.

Posted by: Crawford L Robinson | Jan 06, 2021 10:07

Looks to me like the gentrification fears were well founded for Rockland.

Posted by: Gerald A Weinand | Jan 05, 2021 20:54

Mr Mazzeo:

The way to look at it is, until this recent evaluation, you were actually paying less in taxes than you should have been, and your neighbors were paying more. I know that it's not what you or anyone else wants to hear, but that is how it works.

Ms Geiger is correct that the amount of tax revenue takes in has not changed, only that burden has been redistributed based on the current real estate valuation of properties. I'm sure you are familiar with the supply and demand curve. Properties in greater demand, like on some streets in the South End, will see their values increase, and so, the amount of taxes due.

Of course, some of the high rate of property tax in Rockland could be alleviated by two things:

First, the federal government must fully fund the IDEA Act, which mandates school districts to provide Special Education to any person that enrolls in its schools. Currently, the federal government funds this mandate at about 16% of total costs. I am completely in support of providing these services to these students, but they account for about 25% of RSU13's budget (a bit more than seven million dollars); and


Secondly, the State must rework its funding formula for local school districts, known as Essential Planning and Services (EPS). A ballot question approved by voters mandates that the State fund 55% of public school budgets. But this is 55% of the aggregate of all districts - some get more, some get less, presumably based on each town's ability to pay. But the formula doesn't work that way. Rockland receives about 18% of its obligation to RSU13 from the state. Falmouth receives over 30%, and Cape Elizabeth more than 25%. Cushing, Owls Head and South Thomaston receive nothing. Fixing this formula to make it more equitable for towns with high property valuations combined with lower average wages would see Rockland benefit. But as you can imagine, some towns don't want to see their subsidy reduced.

All this said, Maine does have a statute that allows seniors (those aged 65 and more) to defer the property taxes on their homes until the owner dies or the property is sold - the Deferred Collection of Homestead Property Taxes it's called. The State Treasury makes an equivalent payment of the tax obligation to the Town, and then collects the accrued taxes (plus interest) when the owner dies or the property is sold, typically from the next owner. See 36 MRSA Chapter 208.

FWIW, our property on Grove Street saw an increase in value. We pay more than $5,000 a year in property taxes and have been for some years now (it's a public record).

Posted by: DALE HAYWARD | Jan 05, 2021 16:51

Please clarify my comment: typo for the word "NOT" it should read: Too bad you are able to spread  your thoughts over the entire State, now the VS will shut me down for offending their friend, I am sure.

Posted by: DALE HAYWARD | Jan 05, 2021 16:48

Former City Councilor: Did one of your properties go down in assessment. My taxes went up nearly 25%. Too bad you are not able to spread your thoughts over the entire state. So sorry.

Posted by: Francis Mazzeo, Jr. | Jan 05, 2021 16:39

Vallie....did you ever hear the Hindu adage " it matters not whether the knife falls on the melon or the melon falls on the knife, it is the melon that suffers". Raising my evaluation raises my taxes according to my finances. I don't know how shifting the burden from Peter helps Paul , but then again I am not a politician.

Posted by: Stephen Betts | Jan 05, 2021 14:27


Posted by: Crawford L Robinson | Jan 05, 2021 14:18

My 'valuation' went up and my checkbook went down. I'd reckon that also applies  to Valerie and Francis. How about you Valli? I seem to recall that during the 'revaluation' four out of five councilors had decreased valuations. Maybe you were one of them? Your checkbook went up and your property tax went down perhaps? Thus it IS an increase in the property tax paid by most. It is an increase in property tax for those paying more than the previous year, no matter how you paint it.

Posted by: Valli Genevieve Geiger | Jan 05, 2021 13:14

Dear Francis, there was no property tax increase. The valuation caused most people's house value to come up, some by a lot and some by a little and few sections of town, the value of property went down. But the budget remained neutral, if we were collecting $10 million before, we were collecting $10 million after, but who paid how much of it, changed. The budget last year was slightly below the previous year's. The mill rate decreased by 13%.

Valli Geiger

Former City Councilor

Posted by: Francis Mazzeo, Jr. | Jan 05, 2021 10:39

Valerie...that's why the City did better because of the property tax increase.

Posted by: Valerie Wass | Jan 05, 2021 09:04

Glowing review???!!  Heck, that is a bunch of marlarky!!!!  Sure didn't help make my property taxes go down!

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