ROCKLAND – “I would really like to have diverse voices,” said Council member Sarah Austin, during the July 12 Rockland City Council meeting. “I want people who can represent more of our community, not just people who are wealthy or have infinite time. I want people who are working. I want parents. I want people who can speak to every range of concerns that we have; to not just come and comment, but to be at the table here, sitting with us, helping make decisions. I want poor people to be able to afford to be a public servant, too.”
Rockland City Council members are pushing for a November ballot referendum question that requests voters to accept or veto a proposed stipend increase for Council members, along with an additional clause allowing for automatic yearly cost of living adjustments.
“This number [$800] has not changed since before some of us were born,” said Austin.
During the July 12, City Council meeting, Councilor Louise MacLellan-Ruf listed the pay range offered by Midcoast municipalities to its governing bodies. It goes anywhere from Rockland’s $800 to the highest: Owls Head, which is $3580. Pay for service to Thomaston, Union, Camden, Lincolnville, Rockport and Warren falls within an average of $1815.71.
If Rockland, which represents a regional service center, averages out the cost of living increases, councilors should at least be up to an average of $1,140.05 in 2021, according to MacLellan-Ruf. The $800, if broken into hourly wage, averages to about a dollar an hour, according to Austin, for the significant amount of time spent in City Chambers, researching and drafting ordinances, and interacting with committees, commissions and the community.
For mayoral-equivalent positions, the figures can be anywhere from “a couple of hundred bucks” to almost $1,200, said MacLellan-Ruf. Rockland mayors receive $1,000.
Thomaston does not differentiate for the Chair. In Owls Head, the select board fee is $3,580; the Chair goes up to $4,676. Union, Camden, Lincolnville, and Rockport do not differentiate. Warren gives their select board members $1,400 and the Chair receives $1,700.
At the discussion’s outset, during the July 12 meeting, Council was prepared to request a new stipend of $2,000, echoing a statement by Councilor Ben Dorr that Rockland should be paying at least as much as Thomaston.
Councilor Nate Davis wondered if the wage ought to be higher. Yet, at the same time, he grappled with the idea of including current councilors in the pay raise.
“The goal of attracting diverse array of candidates is an excellent goal,” he said. “I’m happy that we are taking steps to accomplish that. But, paying us – us five in our current term – more money has no bearing on that goal because we’re here already. So, how is it in the public’s interest to increase our salaries? That’s what makes me uncomfortable about the charter question as currently structured. But I’ll argue against what I just said. Perhaps an increase in stipend would.... Perhaps it would allow us to devote more time, more energy, more effort to this job. I don’t know. This does make me uncomfortable.”
Councilors Dorr, Austin, and MacLellan-Ruf readily agreed with the extra salary idea, increasing the proposal to $4,000 (council) and $4,500 (major).
Mayor Ed Glaser was the only council member to veto the additional sub-amendment to increase the proposed salaries from $2,000 to $4,000. He did not provide an explanation during the July 12 discussion.
For various reasons, the idea to not include current councilors was talked down by Austin, MacLellan-Ruf, and even Dorr, whose term ends in November. (Dorr clarified that this is not an announcement of whether he’ll seek another term. Even if he does run again, there’s no guarantee he’ll win, according to him.)
MacLellan-Ruf spoke of the negative comments directed to Rockland public officials in media comment sections, the insults, the angry and the demanding emails that are sent on all days and at all hours.
“Sarah talks about looking for diversity and to get varied people,” said MacLellan-Ruf. “I think it’s easier to take hits if you are able to have that childcare, or if you are able to have that extra cup of coffee.”
Dorr said he’s not convinced that refraining from paying themselves an increase will do council any favors with the public.
“If we decide not to pay ourselves, or request an increase in more pay for ourselves, does that in some way make this charter amendment more favorable to the general public who are voting on it?” said Dorr. “I think that’s the lens that I’m trying to view this from. And I’m not convinced that delaying the increase in pay improves our odds in any capacity.”
Rockland City Council will accept public comment on this topic during its September meeting. They will then vote to put the referendum on the November 2021 ballot.
Council is also seeking to remove home addresses from the ballots.
Charter Amendment Referendum Question #6
"Shall the Rockland City Charter, Sections 202 and 203(d), be amended to adjust the annual salaries of the Mayor and Members of the City Council from $1000 and $800 respectively, to $ ___and $ __, respectively, and to adjust said salaries annually based on the Cost of Living Index, beginning July 1, 2022?"
Reach Sarah Thompson at email@example.com