By: Valli Geiger
Maine is the oldest state in the country, it is also the 6th poorest. So Maine is in trouble. But, we have much in Rockland to be thankful for. People want to live here. From the ashes of the collapse of the fishing and fish packing industry, Rockland, for the 4th time has remade itself, this time as the art capital of Maine, with a thriving tourist industry.
So what’s wrong? From my perspective, we don’t have enough jobs that provide a living wage, too many people have to work 2 or more jobs to make ends meet. People who want to live and work here cannot find housing and Rockland’s property taxes are too high, yet we don’t have enough money, why?
The state of Maine made a deal with towns and cities decades ago that 5% of the sales tax collected would go back to the cities and towns that generated it. The deal was broken years ago. We now receive back $500,000 instead of $1.8 million.
The law in Maine says the state will fund 55% of the cost of schools. Rockland receives about 16%. So 3500 households pay for the infrastructure and service needed by a service center. The sales tax collected from the thousands of people who shop here and visit here, goes to the state and it doesn’t come back.
In just the last few months, The Smithsonian, the Boston Globe and the Austin, Texas Statesmen have declared Rockland the best place to visit. Downeast Magazine voted Rockland, it’s favorite town of Maine. Tourists are flocking, people are buying second homes here, affluent people from out of state are retiring here. At a time when many Maine towns are dying, when Northern Maine’s population is falling, we are fortunate. But, how do we make sure older residents on fixed incomes and young people can stay here, move here, find affordable housing, manage our increasing property tax?
As a council, we are selling foreclosed houses for closer to what they are worth, bringing revenue to the city, making sure houses sold will get fixed up and back on the tax roles. We give Habitat for Humanity 2-3 houses years to be renovated and put back on the market as affordable housing.
We are requiring owners of abandoned or dangerous building to fix, tear down or sell.
What else do we need to do?
Increase housing! People want to live here, but there is little to buy and nothing to rent. Communities all over the country have found themselves in a similar situation. Some have found creative and successful answers.
Some have provided an opportunity for homeowners to add a small dwelling (mother in law suite) to rent. Some have removed the barriers to using the upper floors of downtown buildings. Portland and Waterville have worked with developers to repurpose abandoned elementary schools into elderly or millennial housing. Communities have been using city land to create tiny house neighborhoods of 8-12 very small “Katrina Houses” (Tumbleweed Tiny Houses) as a way to decrease homelessness. We need to think outside the box, to bring some creativity to this problem.
For that reason, the City Council has created a Housing Task Force to look at the issues, possibilities and barriers to housing. We invite you to join us on January 31st, 6pm at Council Chambers as we start this process.
We need to solve this problem together or events will over take us. We could become a affluent retirement community, losing many of our long term residents. Our economy could struggle because employers cannot find employees who can afford to live here. We could lose the opportunity to keep or welcome the next generation, abandoning our future. Or we can find a way to create new affordable housing. I think we can.
Issue 43, Page 1
Issue 43, Page 2