By Rodney Lynch, AICP
Presently there are two groups in the City of Rockland looking for input from Rockland taxpayers, property owners, residents and voters as to what matters most in the community, and to help them plan for the City’s future. These groups include Rockland Heart and Soul and the Comprehensive Planning Commission. The latter City committee is in the process of updating the 2002 Comprehensive Plan as well as the most recently updated 2012 plan.
As a long time Rockland resident, a Rockland taxpayer with over $7,000 a year in property taxes, excise taxes, and taxes disguised as fees such as the sewer use tax and the transfer station permit tax; serving as the City’s Community Development Director from 1998 to 2011 which included involvement in the long preparation of the 2002 City Plan; as well as being a professional planner, I would like to take the opportunity provided to me by the Buzz to deliver my personal observations to these two_ groups:
• Rockland’s shrinking middle class caused, in part, by the following: middle class flight, especially by families with children, to Camden or Rockport for the purpose of enrolling their children in the Camden-Rockport school system so as to get them out of the RSU-13 system which they perceive as providing their kids with an underperforming education. This has often been done at a great financial sacrifice to the families involved, but they have felt that it was worth it. For others the flight is exacerbated by Rockland’s high property taxes and other taxes disguised as fees. At times those middle class persons and families with the financial means will seek to relocate to another Knox County town with a lower tax rate.
• The City’s unaddressed litter and uncontrolled weed problem. A litter and weed eradication program would enhance community pride.
• A Downtown/Main Street area which has become hazardous for pedestrians because of the speeding traffic. The City has long been warned of this problem, but has only sporadically addressed it.
• Rockland’s rapidly deteriorating single family housing stock often caused by owners who lack the disposable incomes with which to make necessary improvements and repairs to their older homes.
• Increasing number of seasonal or part-time residents purchasing second homes for rental purposes or for short-term visits to midcoast Maine. It is not uncommon to see houses in neighborhoods unoccupied for a portion of the year.
• Rockland’s stagnant, aging and financially strapped population; especially as the fixed or nearly fixed income population cohort grows.
• The increasing financial burden being placed on Rockland’s shrinking middle class for financing municipal and county services and for paying for an expensive school system without the broad tax base needed to support it._ We now have a 30 million dollar (principal plus interest) RSU-13 facilities bond to be paid off, in part, by Rockland’s middle class.
In summary, I don’t see much of these things changing in the future.
On the positive side, the construction of the new Mid-Coast School of Technology will greatly enhance the vocational opportunities for local and area wide students. In the longer term the facility should not only serve secondary students, but be elevated to a dual community college as well. MCST is a complimentary addition to UROCK. Obviously, Rockland’s share will be mostly borne by its shrinking middle class.
In closing, I would like to thank the Buzz for providing me with a forum in which to publicly express my opinions.