Since 1980, the pay for serving on Rockland Council has been stuck at $800 yearly. Adjusting for inflation, it would now be $2,300. This year's ballot includes a Charter amendment to update Council pay to $4,000. That’s a meaningful, overdue step. We must allow more citizens to serve on City Council without harming their household finances. By calling $800 "enough" while the cost of living climbs, Rockland has dug a deep moat around community leadership for folks who are enthusiastic, but not rich.
Length of Council meetings (2021 avg): 2.6 hours
Number of Council meetings (2014-20 avg): 26/yr
Hours with constituents, research, and other meetings: 6+/wk
Total hours: ~380/yr, (or 7 hrs/week)
$800 over 380 hours = ~$2.11/hour
7 hours is 18% of a 40 hour workweek
18% of Maine minimum wage of $12.75 = $4,773 per year
18% of $15/hr wage = $5,616 per year
18% of Rockland's median wage = $7,948 per year
Will someone hustling to make ends meet devote 380 hours for a sub-minimum stipend?
That's magical thinking. 74.9% of Rockland households can't afford median rent. Paying fairly is essential. The work requires marathon meetings, weighing community issues as best we can. I believe members of that Council should reflect the economic diversity of our neighbors.
Some Councilors / candidates have expressed intent to refuse the additional stipend. That’s good PR, but should be a private choice. Wealth doesn’t make a better Councilor than someone who needs pay to make their service possible.
Do we continue to tilt City Council to the financially secure, who are statistically older, homeowners, and business owners, and quietly shut out the perspective of caregivers, renters, and working class folks? When it comes to who gets a seat at the decision-making table, maybe that story we like to tell about Rockland being a gritty, blue collar town is magical thinking, too. Let's halt this 4 decade race to the bottom. Please consider the work honestly, and acknowledge its value when you vote.
Sarah Austin is a Rockland City Councilor