Issue 30: Rockland’s Dilemma

By Valli Geiger

September and March, property tax season in Rockland means some tightened purse strings for many of us. Rockland, with so many assets: a beautiful harbor, a thriving downtown, great walkable neighborhoods also has the highest mill rate in Knox County, and one of the highest in the state. In 2015, the average mill rate in Maine was $15.03. The average mill rate in Knox County was $13.81. Rockland’s mill rate was $21.72. For every $1,000 dollars of value in your house, you pay $21.72. If your house if worth $100,000, your property tax will be $2,172. Of that amount, approximately 40% goes to the city of Rockland, 55% goes to RSU13 and 5% goes to the county.

Why is Rockland so high? We are a service center and the county seat. Most of the service centers in Maine have much higher mill rates than the surrounding towns. In 2015, Belfast had a mill rate of $19.58, Bath’s mill rate was $20.81 and Bangor’s was $21.93. Service centers provide infrastructure for much more than the population that resides there. There are county courthouses, state buildings, and jails; there are many non-profits in service centers and they too, do not contribute to the cost of infrastructure. Service centers are shopping and job centers. Rockland swells from a population of 7200 people at night to 16,000 during the day and 25,000 during the summer. Employees and visitors who live outside the city, do not pay for the infrastructure they use, that is left to the 3500 households in Rockland.

The state used to acknowledge this by returning 5% of the state sales tax Rockland raised. This sales tax revenue, called municipal revenue sharing was meant to cover the added cost of being a service center. The Maine Revenue Sharing law passed in 1971, required that the state return 5% of the sales tax back to the towns and cities that raised it. In the financial crisis of 2008, Maine for the first time in 40 years sent back less than 5%. In the years since they have never returned to that amount. Last year it was 2% and Governor LePage wanted it to be zero. This decision has cost Rockland millions over the last 9 years.

The state has another obligation it has forfeited and that is to the cost of education. Maine law requires the state to fund 55% of the cost of education. Maine has never met that percentage. Last year it was around 46%. But that does not mean every school district received 46% of its education costs. Due to a complex formula, wealthier towns pay more and poorer communities pay less. Rockland receives around 18% of its education costs from the state, despite the fact that annual income per household is below the state average. For Rockland, this means millions lost in education funding.

This more than anything is Rockland’s dilemma to solve. On the other hand we could be Millinocket with a mill rate of $32.93.

Editors note: The candidates for the City Council have each agreed to write an issue of The Buzz. Next week’s issue will be by Lisa Westkaemper, and the following week by Gregory Mason. All three are joining the conversation Wednesday evenings on the Rockland Metro show.

Tune in Wednesday from 5 to 6 pm to WRFR’s Rockland Metro Show for a conversation on our Buzz topic. Its on 93.3 fm in Rockland, 99.3 in Camden, & WRFR.org. Join us afterwards for an Old School round-table dinner.
To reserve a place at the table and/or to join The Buzz team,
email robert@thebuzz.me, or call him at 701-5164.