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Rockland asks city workers to forego pay hike

By Stephen Betts | May 14, 2020
Photo by: Stephen Betts The Rockland City Council held its first budget review May 13 on the proposed 2020-2021 budget.

Rockland — Faced with widespread unemployment and economic uncertainty from the COVID-19 outbreak, Rockland officials will ask municipal workers to forego a pay raise already negotiated for the upcoming year.

The issue came up during the Wednesday evening May 13 meeting of the Rockland City Council in which councilors began reviewing the proposed 2020-2021 municipal budget.

The revised proposed budget submitted last week by City Manager Tom Luttrell came in at $13,787,462, a 1.7% increase ($229,278) from the approved 2019-2020 budget but which would require no additional property taxes. The revised budget is $300,000 less than the originally proposed budget unveiled March 2 before the effects of COVID-19 were felt in Maine.

Mayor Lisa Westkaemper asked the city manager at the May 13 meeting, held online on Zoom, if he asked union employees to forego their raises for 2020-2021. The manager said he will make a formal request to the representatives for the Teamsters union to open up salaries for negotiations.

The City Council approved labor contracts with the various Teamsters unions in the city in 2018. The contracts called for 1% raises in both 2018-2019 and 2019-2020, and a 2 percent raise for 2020-2021. The new budget year begins July 1.

Westkaemper said she supports no increase in salaries for the next year.

"We all know this will be a tough year. There will be people who will have a tough time to stay in their homes," the mayor said.

Councilor Valli Geiger agreed.

""We can't do enough to help the taxpayers. They can give a little too," she said about municipal workers.

Geiger said workers would still get their benefits covered, including health and dental insurance and retirement.

"Labor is in a hard place, but citizens are in even a tougher place," she said.

Councilor Ben Dorr said he was reluctant to ask for the concession, saying that with inflation, workers could end up working the same amount of time but getting less money.

Geiger said prices are dropping, and there will likely be deflation rather than inflation.

Energy costs have dropped, but food prices increased in April at their fastest pace since 1974, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The city manager said non-union employees such as department heads and the manager would also not see an increase under the proposal.

The currently proposed 2020-2021 budget includes $155,000 for pay raises.

Councilors also requested cuts of small amounts in various lines, including $15,000 out of the $350,000 road paving budget.

Dorr voiced concern about deferring maintenance of roads and sidewalks, but the majority of councilors agreed cutting $15,000 was acceptable. Councilor Nate Davis said he would like the city go beyond coming in with a 0 increase tax increase budget and look for additional cuts.

Councilor Dorr asked what the status was of Wink's Place at the transfer station.

Public Services Director Kathy Parker said a volunteer is needed to operate the facility, and that work is needed on the building before reopening the facility. The shop was closed in early January after a complaint of an aggressive patron and lack of monitoring of the place where people would drop off items that others could pick up.

City Manager Luttrell said the city is budgeting the same amount of money as it had originally projected for motor vehicle excise tax revenue, saying he heard from industry representatives that financial incentives offered by auto companies will keep sales up.

He said, however, that state revenue sharing is expected to fall from an originally expected $1.1 million to $676,000 for Rockland.

The Council is next scheduled to continue budget deliberations Monday evening, May 18 at 5:30 p.m. Meetings are broadcast live on public access channel 1303 as well as streamed live on the city website.

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Comments (3)
Posted by: Melissa Byer | May 14, 2020 22:46

Well said Mr. Carroll

Posted by: Francis Mazzeo, Jr. | May 14, 2020 11:29

Why not wait for an answer by the workers. Some may be grateful for their jobs and want to forego a raise for a year. Councilor Dorr obviously isn't worried about the older citizens on fixed incomes making such a statement but then again the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. These workers are not being asked to work harder for less. They are being asked to put a raise on hold until we get through this situation. Condemning collective bargaining, albeit not a fix all, affords working people a voice.  Labor unions are no more corrupt than our own United States Government and if one cannot see it for what it is, I feel sorry for your blindness.

Posted by: Stephen K Carroll | May 14, 2020 09:42

Well thankfully at least our newest councilor Nate Davis was awake at the meeting.  Saying he would like the "city to go beyond coming in at a 0 % increase and look for additional cuts."  Hopefully if the other councilors could look past the length of their noses they might find a wealth of ideas on how to cut expenses and Ben think you should stay home if you have nothing to add to the conversation.  First, I think it is foolish for the City to "make a formal request to the teamsters".  That's like asking Al-Qaeda not to go around scaring people.  We need real leaders now.  Go to the teamsters and say "Thanks for all you have cost us over the years, but now your services are NO longer required" and if that doesn't suit you then all your workers can stay home and collect unemployment like everyone else. Re: excise tax revenues, if the City Manager believes car sales will stay at last years levels, then he must also believe in Santa Claus and the Tooth fairy.  I think the members of council need to go outside their house, look at the empty stores and long lines at the food bank and ask themselves if this is business as usual.

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