By: Becca Shaw Glaser
“Don’t tell me what you value. Show me your budget and I will tell you what you value.” –Joe Biden
When I look at the municipal budget for Rockland, I am angry that we are in a situation of false scarcity, when on the macro level, there is plenty to go around. Just three men in the United States now hoard more than the bottom 50%, and in our current corporate-political reality, this wealth disparity is only going to get worse. So, we have limited options for how creative Rockland can be with our funds. At the same time, I think it’s necessary to look at how our budget expresses our shared values. How much of our budget goes into which things, while how little goes into other essential things?
I had heard that the Rockland Police department was an especially expensive one, but I hadn’t seen facts to back that up. So I looked into it.
I compared Rockland’s police department budget to relevant towns: Belfast, Farmington, Augusta, Bath, Bar Harbor, Ellsworth and Camden. I chose these because they are either county seats with similar population sizes, tourist towns, and/or service centers like Rockland. It turns out that Rocklanders pay more per capita for our police department than any of these municipalities. The Rockland police department costs $300 per person for each of our 7,220 residents. With the city manager’s proposal of one less officer for the upcoming fiscal year, our cost would be $291 per person—still more than each of these locations pay.
Of course, the police department provides many services which we need in our current, imperfect society, but how is Rockland justifying such a high police budget, when all of these other cities and towns in Maine spend less for theirs? For our current fiscal year, the police budget of $2,162,778 amounts to 16% of the entire city’s gross budget, and a whopping 26% of the net budget (not including schools and county costs). By funding at this high a level are we implying that Rockland is so scary, so needing of so much more police funding per capita than any of these other areas? Furthermore, some of these municipalities have the same number of police officers, yet their budgets are much less. What might we do to lower the police budget—consolidation, fewer officers, less overtime, etc.?
More concerns: in the proposed Capital Improvement Plan budget, the police are asking for $5,000 for “Accessory Weapons Accessory items for vehicle mounted AR-15 weapons.” Are our police officers carrying AR-15 weapons? Where on their vehicles will these be mounted? Should we be supporting a more militarized police force in this tiny city? The police department is also requesting a new police vehicle for $32,000. Does the department really need another new vehicle? Can they at least purchase vehicles that don’t guzzle gas?
Many people feel that the police are a sacred entity, above the need for scrutiny and oversight. But we pay for them, and they should be seen as a service provider and member of the community like any other. I appreciate much of the work police officers do, but not only should their budget be subject to review, but because of the power they hold, every police department should be monitored and subject to a Citizen Review Board.
Ultimately I hope we can put more energy and resources into harm reduction solutions like mental health support, free health care, affordable housing and food, rehab, child-raising support, restorative justice, fair distribution of wealth and resources, undoing patriarchy, classism and racism, etc.—rather than simply engaging in the old methods of punishment, which don’t necessarily make us safer, and which never get anywhere near the healing we need to do as a society.
We are faced with tight times and high property taxes in Rockland. I look forward to when we have more revenue, and can engage in discussions about the creative and life-affirming things we might be able to do with our collective budget.