Rockland council mulls whether to prune aid to downtown organization

By Stephen Betts | May 13, 2018
Photo by: File photo The Summer Solstice celebration kicks off the Rockland summer festival season.

Rockland — The Rockland City Council will consider again Wednesday evening, May 16, whether to reduce or eliminate the city's annual financial support to the organization that works to keep the downtown vibrant.

"I would be all in favor of simmering down what we give to Rockland Main Street," Councilor Amelia Magjik said at the council's May 8 meeting.

Magjik said she  was confident Rockland Main Street Inc. could raise an additional $5,000 on its own if the council were to cut that amount.

"We don't want to cut down the whole tree, but pruning it back," she said.

Mayor Valli Geiger raised the issue of reducing the city's payment to Rockland Main Street, saying she knew it would be controversial. She said she was told by people that the organization was supposed to become self-sufficient at some point.

Geiger said this might be the year to go that way.

The City Council contributes $30,000 annually to Rockland Main Street.

Rockland Main Street Executive Director Gordon Page said the city receives great value for its investment.

He said the $30,000 the city contributes has not increased and is a critically important, but diminishing, percentage of the organization's total budget.

"Rockland Main Street Inc. has a nine-year partnership with the city to keep the downtown district vibrant and attractive to residents, businesses, and visitors," Page said.

The organization appreciates that the city is the largest stakeholder, providing about 30 percent of the operating budget, he said.

The money comes from the downtown tax increment financing district account, which consists of property taxes generated from increased valuations in the downtown. Page said Rockland Main Street increases its financial support from local business and residential contributions, sponsorship for events, and other efforts to raise funds to "continue our important work on behalf of the city."

"We're confident that members of City Council recognize the merits of an organization with a single paid employee and a number of volunteers that annually donate upwards of 2,500 hours of service to our community and economic development efforts. As the president of the National Main Street Center says, 'Downtown is important, because it is the heart and soul of a community. If you don't have a healthy downtown, you simply don't have a healthy town,'" Page said.

"If the city had to hire someone to do the work of Rockland Main Street Inc., the salary and benefits cost would be equal to two and a half times their current contribution," Page said.

The council will continue its debate about the funding for Rockland Main Street Inc. and other outside organizations at its May 16 meeting.

Two of the most visible events organized by Rockland Main Street are the annual Summer Solstice celebration held in June, and the Parade of Lights held in November.

Geiger said any money not given to Rockland Main Street could be used for organizations such as the Knox Health Clinic, which has requested $10,000 for the first time from the city.

The issue was a controversial one in its first year, but has since not generated any opposition. The council took its first vote on the matter in March 2009, when a large group of downtown business representatives as well as state officials, including then-state Sen. Christopher Rector, urged the City Council to contribute $20,000 for the Rockland Downtown Business Alliance's Main Street program.

The supporters said the move would help promote Rockland's downtown, which benefits the community. There were numerous empty storefronts at that time, and then-Councilor Tom Molloy said one thing he wanted to see if the money was approved was work to fill those storefronts.

Kristen Cady, the director of the Maine Downtown Center, compared managing a downtown to managing a shopping mall, saying that it needed someone to help oversee the district.

That $20,000 amounted to a third of the organization's budget in 2009. There was no discussion during both a February and March meeting of the council in 2009 about making the program self-sufficient at some point.

The vote was unanimous by the council in 2009.

The council's debate last week on whether to reduce funding came as it reviewed requests from other organizations.

A new request this year was received from the Knox County Health Clinic. The clinic is located in the Bok building next to the library.

The clinic is a volunteer-based non profit organization that provides free or low-cost medical, dental, prescription assistance, mental health and wellness services to the uninsured and under-insured in Knox County, plus towns bordering Knox County.

Executive Director Meredith Batley told councilors at their May 9 meeting that 40 percent of the people served are Rockland residents. The $10,000 request amounted to 10 percent of the cost of providing the services to Rockland residents.

Councilor Ed Glaser was among the councilors voicing support for contributing money to the clinic.

"They provide a great value, on a par with Rockland District Nursing Association does," Glaser said.

"More so," said Geiger.

Last year, the City Council approved $30,000 for Rockland District Nursing Association, $30,000 for Rockland Main Street Inc., $10,000 for the Area Interfaith Outreach food pantry, $7,500 for the St. Bernard's soup kitchen, $2,500 for the Rockland Coast Guard Committee, and $500 for a new donation to Health Equity Center.

The council also provided $5,000 last year to the Midcoast Recovery Coalition. Magjik commented at the May 9 meeting that the Knox County Health Clinic provided the council with detailed reports on the services it provides to Rockland, something she had wanted to see from MRC.

The May 16 meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall.

Comments (8)
Posted by: Dale Hayward | May 16, 2018 17:52

On behalf of Dale Hayward, not afraid to use my name and not speak for some organization which appears comfortable hiding behind a non-name and for some reason can not get it through their heads that the organization at discussion is the ROCKLAND LOBSTER FESTIVAL, which apparently is capable of writing and attempting to show just how important and without which we might suffer. First, I find it hard to believe that there is not an investment from the City of Rockland, which encompasses all the citizens and not merely city hall, that is profound and constitutes an overwhelming investment of time, energy, and yes, finances in many different ways. The payment of money to the city is, from my perspective, an opportunity to lessen the burden on the taxpayers (who are your customers) and to provide a fair and equitable return on our investment in the city including services that your ROCKLAND LOBSTER FESTIVAL cannot do without. If you want to hold your ROCKLAND LOBSTER FESTIVAL at the rightful full cost of all services and amenities you would not have a ROCKLAND LOBSTER FESTIVAL. The investment of the taxpayers goes way beyond the 4 or 5 days plus the setup and take down time you suggest that you pay for. The economic impact is profound, widespread police presence for a reason. The cost to provide the police goes beyond what you pay for their time, how about equipment, training, and the same with the fire department, emt's, dispatch services and all the rest that it takes to prepare and make sure your organization gets the services you expect because I am sure that the liability toward the ROCKLAND LOBSTER FESTIVAL without them would be uninsurable. There is no doubt that the ROCKLAND LOBSTER FESTIVAL does provide many donations and does outreach to the community. Is that what the ROCKLAND LOBSTER FESTIVAL  was designed to do? Let there be no doubt that the community is blessed with the volunteers that assist you, however, many are part of the Rockland community, City of Rockland and feel important and make every effort to help in this process. Not having the opportunity to address this to an individual and find it very interesting that my name is the only one used to reply tells me that you do not like my position even though I have volunteered almost every year for the 30 plus years I have lived here. The money you "donate" to so many causes is wonderful, however, I am willing to bet every one of those organizations donate services way beyond what you add to their contribution needs. Everything helps. Please have the guts to put a name to your comments as I believe this is a very negative approach to the ROCKLAND LOBSTER FESTIVAL to find fault with someone who speaks their mind, whether or not you approve, but showing that no one in your court has the guts to own these comments. Fault me all you may. There are other organizations that promote Rockland: The Blues Festival, Harbor Boat Shows, the Cruise Ships, and I am sure I could go on to list other ways, other organizations promote Rockland. Paying for services is helping lighten the burden for our taxpayers, show how you care about all of us. Dale Hayward

Posted by: Maine Lobster Festival | May 16, 2018 13:34

On behalf of the festival, we would like to respond to comments by Dale Hayward and others that have encouraged the city of Rockland to cut aid to our organization. It's important to note that the City of Rockland does NOT provide any aid to our festival. We are actually a customer of the city, and pay for the rights to hold our non-profit event in the City of Rockland. The positive economic impact of our event on the community is profound, and has brought hundreds of thousands of visitors and their dollars here to celebrate the area and the lobster industry. We then assist our community again by giving our profits back to the community and have helped with the purchase of emergency vehicles, scholarships, helping local families, and charitable giving. In response to Kendall Merriam, we donate thousands of dollars locally, including nursing organizations and other local community organizations that apply for our benefactions. We promote our area, and then use the funds to help our community, and our organization is entirely run by a volunteer board of directors that work all year to put the event together, and more than 1,200 volunteers during the week of the event. We would appreciate the support of our community.

Posted by: James Clinton Leach | May 14, 2018 11:04

Nothing wrong with reviewing any invertment the City has, all investments are expected to return to the investor and in the case of the Downtown investment it's clear the payback is generous ( a good bang for the buck if you will) As with many things in business it Looks Easy to the outsiders and how we all enjoy the downtown functions...the time spent on coordinating such events is not accomplished over a cup of coffee or during a baseball game....the Council may have 2 business mined members , being in business has a great benefit to the City as a Council person meaning if you've never sustained a viable enterprise of several yrs where's your experience in regard to issues like this.... As a citizen I want to encourage the Downtown not discouraging them...They bring revenue to Rockland much more than $30,000.00 donation so the Vouncil will say thanks keep increasing our revenue and showcasing the City of Rockland but don't expect any compinsaion what so ever.....the council might look at the return on investment..and use some of that for the other interests they want to fund. This  is a profit making "donation" ...there are very few out there....Try to look at the Big picture Council...

Posted by: Stephen K Carroll | May 14, 2018 08:57

My understanding of the "tif" funds is to "provide infrastructure improvements" to the downtown area. Examples being beautification projects or funding for a parking garage, public restrooms or other physical improvements to the area.  I do not believe the intent was to to provide a cushy salary for the downtown main street director.  There are many other more worthy organizations, like the several mentioned in the article that could use these funds.  Lets not "trim"  lets cut the tree down.

Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | May 13, 2018 23:57

Very nice comment, Mr. Merriam.

Posted by: Dale Hayward | May 13, 2018 21:17

Next, the Rockland Lobster Festival will become a major discrimination factor to take away from Rockland. Oh gosh, they already have done that. Cut aid to the Rockland Lobster Festival also. Let them pay for everything.

Posted by: Mary A McKeever | May 13, 2018 16:43

Cheers to the volunteers who work so hard to improve downtown Rockland. The opening of your clinic to needy from other towns is remarkable and so very charitable. Rockland is the "big" city to go to for shopping and activities from rural areas, Appleton, Hope, Union and more. And to think, they are welcome!

Posted by: Kendall Merriam | May 13, 2018 12:18

While nice, funding downtown recreational events cannot compare to the needs of our neighbors who benefit from necessary nursing, medical and social services our town helps to underwrite.

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