Portland budget hearing a quiet affair
PORTLAND — Only three people showed up Monday night to comment on the $189 million city budget proposed for fiscal year 2010.
The display of public comment contrasted sharply with budget hearings a year ago, when dozens of people showed up to speak against cuts to police and fire staff, the threat of the Reiche library branch closing and several other program and service cuts. There were more than 70 layoffs in fiscal year 2009, and some city departments were combined or eliminated.
The proposed 2010 budget would have no effect on the property tax rate, and includes minimal service cuts. It does call for laying off six firefighters and six police officers, although the city is still talking to police and fire unions about contract revisions that could save those jobs. So far, the unions have not agreed to a wage freeze.
The budget includes reducing the number of city street lights, increasing parking meter fees by 25 cents per hour and increasing fees for marriage licenses, fire alarms and animal impounds. There are also management changes proposed for the Riverside Recycling Center.
Members of the council Finance Committee shaved $115,500 off City Manager Joe Gray's proposed budget. Recalculation of vehicle fuel costs and a reduction of the city's debt service and tax increment financing payments produced a $137,000 reduction. The committee added funding for the Peaks Island Council and police overtime on Peaks Island.
As proposed, the budget would keep the property tax rate at $17.74 per $1,000 of assessed value.
At the hearing Monday night, Peter Bolduc, who said he owns a local recycling company, praised the management of the municipal recycling center on Riverside and said he approved of the changes made there.
Robert Haines, a regular at council meetings, told councilors he thought they've done a good job with the budget. He was critical of the city's plan to shut off some street lights while also laying off police officers, saying that well-lit streets help to reduce crime, yet the city plans to reduce light and "crime fighters."
Haines also noted the sparse public turnout for Monday's meeting.
"It seems very strange that no one is here," he said.
The City Council is scheduled to vote on the proposed budget May 18 at 7 p.m. in City Hall Council Chambers.