There is little dispute that here on Maine’s Midcoast, we are sitting squarely in the Great Recession, though optimists paint faint but hopeful glimmers of a national economic recovery. Few have been immune, with job layoffs becoming the norm over the past few years in a variety of industries, from boat building to brokerage offices to publishing and education. Those lucky enough to avoid losing jobs have been faced with the stark realities of no pay increases, or even pay cuts.

The pain was deepened by precipitous rises in gasoline and oil prices, damaging household budgets in a region of the country where citizens rely heavily on cars to commute to jobs, and on oil to heat homes and offices, barns and factories during long, cold winters. Those on fixed incomes, including many of our elderly citizens, were socked again by the federal government’s decision to forgo a cost of living adjustment, known as COLA, in their Social Security checks. That decision made last spring was the first time since 1975, according to economic analysts, that such an annual benefit increase had not been incorporated in monthly checks.

The government cited a flat inflation rate as the impetus for not giving the retired more cash. We’re not sure how that reasoning was ultimately made, given ever-increasing food prices, aforementioned energy costs and increased health care costs. We do know that economists call those spiraling food and gas costs price pressures, and they are wary of deflation. The result: no COLA.

The outlook continues to be bleak in Midcoast Maine, where the public is well aware that paychecks support small businesses, which in turn create jobs. Smaller paychecks mean less to spend, and the local economy contracts. It is with reluctance to further slow economic recovery that selectmen in some municipalities this budget season are mirroring the federal government and voting to not give COLA pay increases for municipal employees.

They say it is an issue of fairness and one made knowing that municipal paychecks derive from property taxes paid by citizens, many of whom are existing on fixed incomes, or in the case of those who have lost jobs, no income at all.

In Lincolnville, selectmen voted recently to effect a zero percent COLA increase for town employees, although they will maintain the pay increases for those who qualify this year for periodic salary increases based on merit or in some cases on longevity, or both.

Other municipalities and school districts will discuss these same points as the annual budget season gets rolling. To eliminate pay raises in any form is painful, yet as Lincolnville selectmen agreed, it boils down to fairness to communities strapped hard by local education costs and a state government that consistently reduces revenue sharing with the local level.

Rosey Gerry, chairman of the Lincolnville Board of Selectmen, said he informally polled businesses from Belfast to Rockland to help him consider municipal decisions about wages and benefits. Just one business out of many he called reported giving employees a pay raise. Most kept wages at the status quo or cut them. The times are bleak.

COLA increases may seem minimal — in Lincolnville, the estimated total, if the town pursued giving them, would amount to $12,699. But add to that an estimated eight percent increase in health insurance costs and decreased revenue sharing from Augusta, and the picture broadens. If halting COLA increases represents one small method of spreading the pain across the broader community, then we’ll take it, and hope the Teamsters, teachers unions and school administrators follow suit.