Gentrification, police to shape city politics

By The Courier-Gazette Editorial Board | Aug 13, 2020

It is early in the political season for the City of Rockland, but we predict two topics will loom large in the race for council seats this year — police funding and gentrification.

Gentrification is a perennial concern for the community. We have recently seen a revaluation in the city that has raised property values on average by 19%, and in some parts of the city by much more. Particularly hard hit has been the South End.

It is easy to lay this at the council’s feet, but the reality is that times change and we do not really vote on gentrification. There was a time when the South End was a tough, little working class neighborhood, and when we put large industrial operations like Fisher Engineering and the sardine plants on the water.

Now the coastline pretty much all over the first world is increasingly used for tourism and luxury. Fishing fleets give way to pleasure boating. Hotels, condos, marinas, short-term rentals and shops full of kitsch are the norm for development in oceanside municipalities. As wealthy folks move in — thinking of nothing but buying up Rockland properties at bargain prices and fixing them up — it becomes harder and harder for those remaining working class residents to keep up with property taxes and afford their traditional way of life.

Property tax structure has remained a problem for years because it is not based on ability to pay. People who bought houses in Rockland for what would seem absurdly low amounts by today’s standards have since retired and now, on fixed incomes, see skyrocketing property tax increases. State government targeted lowering income taxes during the LePage years to help out the wealthy, then raided revenue sharing aimed at helping municipalities. The result has been increases in property taxes.

With Valli Geiger’s exit from the race, an opportunity has arisen to change the makeup of the council.

The political controversy of the council appearing to largely support defunding the Rockland Police Department could drive a campaign to add a more traditional or local or working class voice to the council. Whether you see the present council a representing these voices is a matter of perception, but there is a strong sense of two Rocklands — the high end businesses on Main Street catering to foodies and tourists and the people living on side streets whose kids receive free lunches in school.

Ian Emmott has taken out nomination papers and stated his interest in maintaining funding for police.

Joseph Catalano Jr. has taken out papers noting that he is a business person.

We will know more about them soon when we have an opportunity to sit down and talk about the issues in depth.

Whoever the city elects this year, it is worth noting that the fight against gentrification may be a worthy one.

Rockland’s strength lies in the fact that we do not roll up the sidewalk along Main Street for the winter. We are an all-year community, and working families continue to make this place their home. We have a mix of manufacturing businesses and retail, and attract new families with our wonderful quality of life.

Maintaining our business roots and continuing to limit short-term rentals can help preserve our way of life, and the council has done a good job of balancing those needs so far.

Our hope is that it will continue this good work even as it faces inevitable change, both through election and a shifting economic landscape.

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