ROCKLAND – Mayor Brian Harden, who emerged the winner in a three-way City Council race earlier this month, has been elected to a second consecutive term as mayor.
Harden was elected by a 3-2 vote over Harold “Hal” Perry when the council held its organizational meeting Monday night. Along with his own vote, Harden also received the support of Councilors Carol Maines and Eric Herbert. Perry and Adele Grossman Faber cast ballots for Perry, according to City Clerk Stuart H. Sylvester.
Harden said he was pleased to be selected to lead the council for another year and looked forward to working with the group. He said the council was under a lot of pressure to limit spending and pledged to continue to press for budget discipline.
“I feel challenged but I am ready for it,” Harden said Tuesday of continuing as mayor. “I think that the challenge we have – being a service center and being heavily taxed – is that we have to pull ourselves together as a group and solve these problems.”
Harden acknowledged that the city was confronted with “static’ tax base because much of the land suitable for commercial and industrial development already was being used. He said the council in recent years has tried to keep the city budget within the rate of inflation, a task that is often difficult at a time when salaries and health care costs continue to rise. In addition, he said, City Hall has little leverage over school or county spending.
“Because our school budgets seem to always go up more, we try to keep our spending from going up as well,” Harden said. “We have been more successful in keeping the tax rate stable.”
Harden said the tax rate had declined from a high of $24.50 per each $1,000 in valuation six years ago to $17.50 per $1,000 this year. He said a long overdue revaluation was responsible for the lower rate.
“As the value of our community has gone up, we’ve made sure the mill rate has gone down,” he said.
In remarks to the council after being named mayor, Harden commended the council for attempting to find revenue sources other than the property tax to pay for municipal government. At the same time, Harden said he hoped the council would take a fresh approach to governing and perhaps bring an end to the acrimony that surfaced during some of its debates of the past year.
Harden said that 2007 “must be a year when each councilor puts aside personal prejudice and animosity and settles down to work as a cohesive group solving common problems.” It also must be a “year when the politics of hate and the politics of fear that blossomed at some of our meetings last year are banished, and a year when we work with facts not fantasies, fears or frustrations.”
Harden urged the public to give the council an opportunity to continue its goal of holding the line on spending and taxes. He said that despite what some critics may say, there were no simple solutions to serious problems.
“In my six years on the Rockland City Council, keeping taxes stable has been my most important goal. And that will continue,” he said. “But I have just won a very close battle for re-election to this council. Many Rockland voters are clearly troubled by what they are being told about city budgets. To all of you, I say be sure you get the facts before you believe the rhetoric. And participate in the process. None of us here on this council wants to burden any of you any more than is absolutely necessary to provide services that you need, and we all welcome your input.”