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South Portland budget would cut jobs, not people

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South Portland budget would cut jobs, not people

SOUTH PORTLAND — The city manager on Monday gave the City Council a budget proposal that eliminates jobs, but doesn't include layoffs.

But the $27.1 million budget is also about $152,000 larger than the one requested by the council, which sought a spending plan that would not increase taxes.

The budget was handed over to the council without a presentation or discussion. A public hearing on both the municipal and school budget will take place on April 5.

Councilors encouraged residents to get involved early and personally.

"It serves us well when people come and speak to us directly," Councilor Rosemarie DeAngelis said. "If you have something to say, this is the time to do it."

Councilors will hold a series of budget workshops, where they must decide on additional cuts to meet their own budget guidance or consider raising taxes.

To reach the council's budget guidance, $1.3 million needed to be cut from the current budget to make up for declining state and non-property tax revenues. Operating costs, like fuel and health insurance, have increased, further squeezing the budget.

Nine positions, the equivalent of 7.75 full-time jobs, are proposed for elimination. They include two police officers, two firefighters, a park maintenance worker, recreation coordinator, two part-time librarians and a part-time custodian.

In his budget message to the council, City Manager Jim Gailey said the city has consolidated jobs and the loss of positions will not require any layoffs.

"Unlike last year, this year's positions proposed for elimination are vacant positions as a result of a hiring freeze," Gailey said.

Other cost-cutting measures include eliminating a cross-town bus route that serves the Maine Mall area and moving away from the city's policy of pretreating roads before snow storms. 

Meanwhile, Gailey has proposed reducing overtime for firefighters and reducing the number of vehicles that respond to calls.

A fire safety awareness program for elementary students, called Risk Watch, would also be eliminated.

Gailey has proposed using $200,000 in surplus funds to reduce the impact of budget cuts.

Councilors, meanwhile, will consider ways to close the remaining $152,000 budget gap.

Mayor Tom Coward said he believes councilors will be open to a "modest tax increase" to preserve city services.

"Basically, councilors are going to do what needs to be done for the best interest of the city," Coward said. "There are only so many people you can layoff and only so many services you can cut."

State law would allow for a 2.75 percent increase in taxes. Three city councilors advocated for no tax increase, while two others advocated for a 0.5 percent and 1.5 percent increase.

The council must also consider a school budget that exceeds its budget guidance.

The $37.9 million budget approved by the School Board last week would increase taxes by 1.5 percent, or $506,000, to fund a reserve account for a substantial renovation to the high school.

Presentations of both the school and municipal budgets is scheduled for April 5 at 7 p.m. in the council chambers at City Hall, 25 Cottage Road.

A public hearing is scheduled to take place following the presentations.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net