The following was presented during public comment during the 9 May City Council Meeting. Below the public comment are some specific examples we’ve discussed regarding staffing the sustainability coordinator position. Today (16 May 2022), City Council will discuss the proposed elimination of the position during the Budget Review Meeting at 5:30 pm at City Hall and via Zoom.
The Rockland Energy and Sustainability Advisory Committee strongly advises the City Council to ensure the position of Sustainability Coordinator is retained in the 2023 budget. When this committee proposed climate action planning to Council in the spring of 2019, committee members clearly laid out why the climate action goals they recommended necessitated dedicated roles and positions in city government, and they made one very specific ask: “Hire a sustainability coordinator.” They argued that “budgets show our priorities. If we are to prioritize the planet and our health and survival, we need to budget for the item.” They were also clear, however, that it wasn’t just about saving the planet. The committee provided data showing that a sustainability coordinator would represent a net financial gain to the City. In short, a sustainability coordinator would be a win-win for the City, both advancing Rockland’s ambitious climate goals and positively affecting our bottom line.
In August of 2019, the Council committed to the ambitious goal of carbon neutrality by 2045. The City hired a part-time sustainability coordinator a few months later. Over the next year, Rockland made significant progress on its climate action goals, including securing $16,000 in grant funding and saving $135,000 in estimated annual energy costs. In spring of 2021, the City reported a 54% estimated carbon reduction from city government’s total energy use over the 2018 baseline. While not all of these grants and savings were the direct result of the Sustainability Coordinator, clearly Rockland’s $25,000 investment in a part-time position was a good investment and a step in the right direction toward achieving the City’s stated climate goals.
Rockland will soon adopt a new comprehensive plan representing the community’s sustainability goals. As a committee, we have studied the draft Comprehensive Plan and especially the sustainability chapter, which will no doubt help guide our committee work for the foreseeable future. It’s clear that the draft comprehensive plan assumes a sustainability coordinator will be on city staff. Close to a third of the actions and strategies outlined in the sustainability chapter are identified as the responsibility, at least in part, of the Sustainability Coordinator and/or our committee. As Julie Lewis, Comprehensive Planning Commission Chair told us, “A sustainability coordinator is a critical position to fill if the City is to reach the goals and objectives outlined in the updated Plan.”
As a committee, we understand that these are difficult economic times. We also understand that, as the Budget Working Group explained in their preamble to the proposed budget, a driving force behind the 7.2% increase in Municipal Appropriations is “outrageous fuel prices.” While we acknowledge that fuel prices are high and volatile, we maintain that eliminating the sustainability coordinator position will only perpetuate the problem. We affirm, as the Council did in 2019, that a sustainability coordinator is crucial to successfully lowering our energy costs by improving our energy independence and reducing our energy consumption. Further, the interests of the voters will be improved by having this dedicated staff person working on their behalf to lower both municipal and taxpayer energy costs, in addition to undertaking multiple initiatives that will relieve future budgets from similar “outrageous” expenses.
We acknowledge that the sustainability coordinator position has been vacant for almost a year, and we know that is a reason some have argued to eliminate the position. You should know that, in early April, our committee, of which the Sustainability Coordinator is a member, identified filling the sustainability coordinator position as our top priority along with recruiting a full and more representative committee. We began drafting specific actions and strategies for filling this position, and those will be detailed for your review in a written memo prior to the start of deliberations on the proposed budget.
As this committee advised Council in 2019 before it adopted Rockland’s current climate action goals and before a sustainability coordinator was hired, “Budgets Show our Priorities.” You, the Council, showed your priorities by adopting ambitious climate goals and hiring a sustainability coordinator in 2019. The only thing that’s changed is that we are now three years closer to our 2045 goal. We can’t afford the cost of inaction.
In closing, the Rockland Energy and Sustainability Advisory Committee strongly advises City Council to reaffirm your priorities and retain the position of sustainability coordinator in the 2023 budget.