Letter to the editor: Inna Bezborodko

Wake up, Rockland. What’s happening in the South End can happen on North End very soon

Tue, 09/15/2020 - 6:00pm

I have lived in Rockland and served this community for a quarter of a century. When one of its residents needed bone marrow transplant, there was a block-length line of donors; when a cabdriver got into a car accident, passengers left money for his treatment with other drivers. That was Rockland, a bit rough around the ages, but full of kindness.

So I was  shocked to learn that in the midst of a pandemic, when we are so vulnerable, the most vulnerable of us – the elderly and disabled are to be taxed out of their homes on Mechanic Street.

After a Councilor Geiger response to the plight of Mechanic Street in this publication, I’ve read every scrap of information about this issue. The more I read, the more puzzled I was. Along with useful information, I found more questions. I want to share them  so you could join and demand answers and accountability from the city council.

Why KRT was chosen for the assessment?

There are three appraisal companies within five mile from Rockland. The city council chose KRT Appraisals, a Massachusetts firm with revenue of $11 million and customer satisfaction reviews average of of 2,8. They have recently entered the Maine municipal market.

On the company’s website they explain that they consult with realtors and developers when conducting their property revaluations.  I fear that Rockland could be targeted for aggressive development, as Massachusett’s developers have been building unaffordable condos up the coast of Maine. 

In review of past KRT assessment in Maine, owners of modest properties, such as mobile homes described a huge tax increase after the company appraisal. For example,  the owner of a $75,000 worth mobile home found that his property was assessed at $175,000 and his taxes hiked accordingly. These increases happen when high end development is assumed to follow, and taxed based displacement is also a strategy to make those developments possible.

The question arises – which developers were consulted during the KRT assessment of Rockland and how did the city decide to contract specifically with KRT?

Why now?

Governor Mills allowed a postponement of property taxation on July 1 due to the COVID-19. Though cities are expected to do property revaluations once every ten years, Governor Mills did not request Rockland or other municipalities do it during a pandemic.  For example, Portland differed property revaluations. Pressing ahead with reassessment only serves the development sharks who prey on vulnerable people and economically depressed places. Why has not Rockland deferred?

Why Mechanic street?

If the city needs the money, it could easily spread the cost around. A just one dollar more per a year per household,  all 3,500 households would absorb the entire tax increase for one Mechanic Street residence. So, why target one area of the city in this way? What is in it for the city? Does the city council assume or know that developers are interested in this part of the city? Is the prospect of huge future tax revenues from condo development the reason the city disproportionally concentrates the burdens of significant tax increase on the modest neighborhood?

Why no  outdoor meeting for Mechanic Street?

Residents of Mechanic Street asked for a socially distanced, outdoor meeting with the city council. Why were they denied this request? 

Why does councilor Geiger want us to believe that that gentrification cannot be stopped?

In her published response to the letter of Mechanic Street residents, councilor Geiger made a statement “ Gentrification cannot be stopped.”

As evidenced by the transcript of the council meeting, she was the only councilor who did not even try to find a solution for Mechanic Street residents to age in place. Why? I have no answer to this question. Is it really because the councilor believes that gentrification cannot be stopped? If so, 

She is wrong!

The councilor needs to educate herself and understand gentrification CAN be stopped. The entire city council must learn more about the real communities that have implemented sensible solutions and stopped displacement. It can be done, but it requires careful planning and actually working  hand-in-hand with community.

Wake up, Rockland. What’s happening in the South End can happen on North End very soon. Get organized and support Mechanic Street. That’s your old teacher, who taught you, your Mom and Dad, a social worker, who helped your children, a caretaker of your sick relatives, your own people who are to be taxed out of their homes in the middle of a pandemic. Stand by them, demand answers about this tax assessment, demand tax policies that prevent displacement and support your neighbors.

Inna Bezborodko lives in Rockland