ROCKLAND, Maine — City councilors took their first look at the first draft of the 2016 municipal budget Wednesday — a document that reflects the cost of continuing to do business as usual in the coastal city — and said it’s likely that change must come.
The $21.6 million municipal budget, if passed as written, would mean an 8.59 percent increase in the city’s portion of the mill rate. Combined with an anticipated 18.6 percent increase in the school’s share of the mill rate and a 5.4 percent increase for the Knox County share, doing business as usual would put significant pressure on Rockland’s property taxpayers, councilors acknowledged.
“It’ll either be expensive, or there will be significant changes,” Councilor Larry Pritchett said after the special council meeting for the presentation of the budget concluded.
Rockland City Manager James Chaousis II told councilors that this municipal budget should be considered a starting point.
“As we progress into the discussion of the costs of city services, it is appropriate to discuss what level of service, programs, efficiency and effectiveness is required to appropriate sustainable levels of funding,” he wrote in a letter to the council that he read during the special meeting. “[The budget] does not reflect irrational increases in the costs of service, but it does represent unchanged services in an extremely changing landscape. This year’s budget process will be extremely difficult, and the City Council will be encouraged to look at issues with new perspective … Hopefully this budget will be the seedling to prompt change.”
He told councilors that the city is poised for “tremendous economic rebounding,” and that signs point to development flourishing again in Rockland soon.
“Yet, we are forced to consider whether the city can endure funding all programs until that date or rebuild those programs when development returns,” Chaousis wrote.
According to the city manager, Rockland’s property value has grown at 0.39 percent annually during the last 10 years and the school budget has grown at 5.81 percent each year during the same time frame.
Councilor Valli Geiger said that she believes the two factors that plague the city’s financial bottom line are reduced municipal revenue sharing by the state and reduced state funds for education.
“We’re in a jam because the state has essentially stolen money from us every year for years,” she said. “What do we do?”
After the meeting, Pritchett said that the possibility that the city will sell municipal property, including Rockland City Hall, is not reflected in the budget.
“We’ll consider it, but who knows?” he said. “I think any conversation about when City Hall will move is just sheer speculation at this point.”