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Rockland Council unanimously gives final approval to budget

By Stephen Betts | Jun 22, 2020
Photo by: Stephen Betts The Rockland City Council Zoom meeting on Monday evening, June 22.

Rockland — The Rockland City Council gave unanimous approval Monday evening to a proposed 2020-2021 municipal budget that will reduce the average homeowner's property tax bill by $18.

The Council voted 5-0 at its June 22 meeting for the $13.7 million spending package. The $13,713,282 budget represents less than a 1% increase – $84,355 – from the approved 2019-2020 budget.

Councilor Valli Geiger said the city has done a great job operating on a tight budget.

"We have almost been running using duct tape and spit," Geiger said.

She said the problem is not city spending but the lack of aid the state provides to the local school district and the lack of revenues Rockland receives from the state.

Councilor Ed Glaser said he does not expect the economy to improve during the next year.

"We have a long year ahead," Glaser said.

The Council rejected an effort by Geiger to reduce the budget by $138,904 which would eliminate the annual payment to the Penobscot Bay YMCA. Geiger said the city has not received recreation services from the YMCA during the COVID-19 outbreak.

The Council voted 4-1 against that proposal.

Councilor Ben Dorr said to negotiate in good faith with the YMCA the money should be left in as the city continues talks with the organization on future recreation services.

City Manager Tom Luttrell said the YMCA would like to extend the contract that expires Sept. 30 through Dec. 31.

The budget meeting was held online via Zoom. There were no public comments.

The property taxes on a home assessed at $185,000 would drop by $18.

The proposed municipal budget is down nearly $400,000 from the original proposed 2020-2021 budget that was released March 2. The city administration returned with a $300,000 slimmer budget earlier this month and city councilors cut expenses by another approximately $70,000 during its reviews over the past few weeks.

The original budget was submitted two weeks before numerous business closed as a result of restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19.

The originally proposed budget included money for a full-time planner and a lieutenant for the emergency medical services department. Money for both of those positions were cut in the wake of the new economic landscape resulting from the virus outbreak.

The largest single department budget is public services at $3,080,000, up 7% from the 2019-2020 budget. Nearly all of that increase is the $350,000 budgeted for road paving. This budget also includes the solid waste facility.

No increase in the cost of a dump sticker is budgeted.

The police department budget was approved at $2,177,000, an increase of 1.6% from the 2019-2020 budget.

The revised fire department budget was approved at $2,174,000, up 1.7% from the current year budget.

The debt service budget was approved at $1,366,690, an increase of 13.9% – $166,690 – from 2019-2020. The debt service budget was not revised from the originally proposed budget because this covers the repayment of previously approved borrowing.

The largest single bond was approved in November 2017 for road paving, library repairs and broadband internet expansion. That amounts to $272,387 for this year's payment and is included in the debt budget.

The library budget was approved at $604,000, down nearly 1%.

The proposed wastewater department budget is slightly more than $4 million, which will result in no change in the sewer rates.

The average household pays about $200 per year for wastewater.

DuPont is the largest user by far of the wastewater system, using up about 60% of the capacity of the plant.

Councilors also agreed to keep donations to outside social service agencies at the same level as 2019-2020. That amount totals $55,500 and includes $30,000 from Rockland District Nursing Association; $10,000 for the Area Interfaith Organization food pantry; $7,500 for the Knox Clinic; $7,500 for the St. Bernard's soup kitchen; and $500 for Spectrum Generations. There is also another $2,500 budgeted for Coast Guard City functions.

Rockland Main Street Inc. will receive $30,000 from the downtown tax increment financing district account, the same as it has received for the past several years.

The Council also approved a package of capital equipment lease/purchase agreements in the budget, including replacing the roof at city hall; paving the parking lot at city hall; devices for the emergency medical services department to perform chest compressions for CPR; a police vehicle; and a public services truck.

The city also asked employees to forego their 2% raises budgeted for next year, but union representatives said they would not agree to the request. The budget includes the money for the raises that total about $155,000.

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