Council also considers whether to return to staff attorney

Rockland councilors wrestle with social service agency requests

By Stephen Betts | May 14, 2019
Source: File photo

Rockland — Rockland city councilors were torn last week over which social service agencies would get taxpayer money.

And councilors also will again consider whether to restore the staff attorney position in city government. They discussed these issues during their May 8 review of the proposed 2019-2020 budget.

Mayor Lisa Westkaemper said the requests from outside social service agencies is one of most difficult issues for her during the budget season. She said she was conflicted about the council's requiring taxpayers with low incomes to contribute to these charities through their taxes.

The mayor said all the charities were worthy, but the council had to decide which ones would receive funding. She said her preference was to support groups that are focused on Rockland.

In the end, the council agreed to contribute $30,000 to Rockland District Nursing Association. This is the full amount requested by the organization, which has received $30,000 in the past two years as well.

Area Interfaith Outreach, which operates the food pantry in Rockland, will receive $10,000. That is the same amount as last year, but less than the $15,000 it requested for 2019-2020.

The Knox Clinic will receive $7,500, up from the $5,000 it received last year, but less than the $9,990 it requested for the year.

Councilor Amelia Magjik said she uses the clinic for her health needs, and pointed out that it served 1,470 Rockland residents last year, and many Rockland residents can get there by walking.

St. Bernard's soup kitchen will again receive $7,500.

Spectrum Generations, which oversees Meals on Wheels, will again receive $500.

Waldo Community Action Partners, which operates the public bus service in Rockland, requested $9,344. The council decided not to provide any money to the Belfast-based organization.

Westkaemper said 150 Rockland residents have used the bus service during the past year, and that $9,344 was a lot of money for that number of riders.

The council also decided against providing any money to Coastal Opportunities, Community Health & Counseling Services and Health Equity Alliance. Penquis Community Action Partners, which had requested $18,833, also received no money from the city.

The Council also heard a presentation from Rockland Main Street which receives $30,000 annually from the city through the downtown tax increment financing district. This is the same amount as the past few years. The organization listed highlights that included an annual jobs fair, donating 5,000 reusable bags, creation of a downtown walking map, the annual Summer Solstice, and working with the city on filling downtown vacancies.

City attorney

The council also again debated the merits of having an in-house attorney rather than contracting with an outside firm.

The city last had a staff attorney in September 2016, when Kevin Beal resigned after considerable pressure from then-City Manager James Chaousis.

The city has since contracted with the law firm of Bernstein Shur, based in Portland.

Westkaemper praised the work of attorney Mary Costigan, who had handled the bulk of the legal work with the firm. But, Westkaemper, said she has other clients as well, so that the city does not receive the same attention as if it had an attorney at City Hall who was accessible to staff at all times.

Councilor Ed Glaser said it would cost more money for an in-house attorney -- he estimated $150,000 annually -- but that things take longer to do now without someone in City Hall.

The city currently spends about $111,000 with its contract with Bernstein Shur and any other outside legal assistance.

Councilor Valli Geiger said the city could look at sharing an attorney with another community, but added that it would not be Thomaston.

Comments (10)
Posted by: Amy Files | May 18, 2019 13:29

I appreciate Steve's concerns about separation of church and state and believe it's important to not dismiss the issue or take it lightly -- so when considering organizations, not just provide funding without some requirements or litmus tests. For example, it is my understanding that anyone is able to receive food from both the AIO and soup kitchens no matter their religions affiliation (or if they are not religious) -- and no requirements to participate in any specific religious activity. The AIO is so important to our community -- they are literally providing food to people who would otherwise go without and operate almost 100% on volunteer staff. I think it's important to make sure you research and visit these organizations before passing judgement or casting negative light on them in a public forum like this -- Steve, I would strongly encourage you visit the AIO and get a tour to see what they are doing there, how many people they serve, and more -- the experience for me was eye-opening, impressive and really validates the importance of the City providing them with whatever support we are able to.



Posted by: Don Dickinson | May 15, 2019 16:54

Well said Richard and Drucinda.



Posted by: Francis Mazzeo, Jr. | May 15, 2019 13:51

We all should give back when we can. The only thing I dislike is that these charities keep wanting more and more. There is no letter asking to give what you feel you can, just a card or letter with suggestions. What was $5 is now $20. Most of us are just a small catastrophe away from being broke.



Posted by: Drucinda Woodman | May 15, 2019 11:31

Stephen Carroll- I'm super frustrated with your comments. Food pantries in Maine are increasingly providing support that the state does not provide to low-income people in Maine, most food pantries have seen their participation rates double in the past few years. Maine is the seventh least food secure state in the U.S. These numbers are not hidden, there are tons of news articles about this. The idea that somehow churches should be providing this support from their own coffers in unrealistic, most of these programs are volunteer run but still cost thousands of dollars per year to provide the food and emergency assistance to those who use the programs and these programs aren't fully covering a need, they're just helping a bit. The numbers for all of these programs are readily available- AIO has their annual report on their website. Regardless of how you feel about particular churches in this area, it's a major disservice to label these programs as "freeloaders" for requesting financial support. And anyway, as I'm sure you've seen before- Stephen Betts already broke down the property tax issues in this area and showed that- Rockland's tax rate is in line with similar communities in the state, that if all the non-taxed, non-govermental properties paid taxes, the Rockland taxpayer would save a whopping $250 a year, that Rockland can't decide to tax properties that are tax-exempt under state law anyway, and that revenue sharing from the state is one bigger issue impacting local taxes.



Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | May 15, 2019 10:05

Over the years the local faith community has given and given and given way beyond their theological persuasion.  Jake and Tanja Barbour have been in the forefront of that for years. 

There are examples of it all around and Mid Coast Interfaith Alliance was an integral part of that happening.  Hospitality House, Yokefellow House, Area Interfaith Outreach, Living In Freedom Everyday, St. Bernard's and St Peter's Soup Kitchens would never have happened without the faith communities mutual support. The present political climate may have negated some of that, yet it is still there waiting to be fired up. Stephen, You just may be the catalyst to get that fired up again.  There are many out there espousing HOPE, INCLUSIVENESS and LOVE that money can't buy, yet we all need. 

For now I will continue to pray for our governmental leaders that they may have the wisdom to spend our money wisely and work together for solutions in a way that will benefit us all.



Posted by: Stephen K Carroll | May 15, 2019 09:07

Jake

If you have such valuable information lets not just keep it between us.  Everyone in the City should be aware of exactly just what the "Christian community does for this area".  Now you realize Jake I'm not just talking about saving soules.  I am speaking about financial contributions to the city or other local organizations that support the hungry, homeless or sick.  All groups the churches are charged to serve and protect.  So perhaps you could devulge the financial support the area churches have given to Area interfaith outreach,St. Bernards soup kitchen,, Knox clinic, Meals on wheels and the Homeless coalition to name just a few.  I anticipate your reply.



Posted by: Tanja Barbour | May 14, 2019 23:10

Steve,

I would like to better inform you about the work the Christian Community does in this area. Get in touch with me and I can show you around.

Jake



Posted by: Kathleen Jones | May 14, 2019 12:44

What affect do some of those "non-profits" have on the economy?



Posted by: Dayna D Small | May 14, 2019 10:33

Preach, Stephen!!



Posted by: Stephen K Carroll | May 14, 2019 09:09

Both the Area interfaith outreach and St. Bernards soup kitchen are church sponsored organizations.  It is my understanding that only one religious organization pays the city anything in lieu of property  taxes and that is the willow st. synagogue.  If churches contribute nothing to the city there should be plenty of additional money in their plates to help the poor and the sick.  Isn't that what they are supposed to do ?  As a matter of fact, reguarding the sick why not ask the churches to fund Knox county nursing, the Knox Clinic and Meals on Wheels.  Also want to add that is a beautiful new sidewalk we are constructing on winter st. for the specific use of another non-profit that pays the City nothing.  Don't believe we can continue to carry the load of so many freeloaders.



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