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- The Forecaster
PORTLAND — Employers, landlords and landowners will all have to ante up in 2016 as a city minimum wage and other fees take effect.
The minimum wage of $10.10 per hour takes effect Friday, Jan. 1. It applies to businesses, nonprofits and city government.
The Housing Safety Office, meanwhile, is already accepting registrations from landlords who must annually pay anywhere from $15 to $35 per unit to fund the new inspections and enforcement program.
The fees are due by Friday; registration can be done online or at the Housing Safety Office in Room 26 at City Hall.
Also in January, a monthly stormwater fee for all property owners will be assessed at $6 per 1,200 square feet.
The fee, which will apply to owners of private and public properties, will help fund upgrades to the Portland Water District treatment plant near East End Beach, separating stormwater and wastewater, and other projects to reduce the flow of wastewater into Casco Bay.
Aside from from Peaks Island, owners of properties that are less than 400 square feet in the city and the Casco Bay islands are exempt from the fees.
It has been a long and winding road for the minimum wage ordinance, first proposed in 2014 by former Mayor Michael Brennan and passed by the City Council in September.
The new minimum could mean a raise of as much as $2.60 an hour above the state minimum wage of $7.50 per hour.
How many employees are affected has remains a guess.
Based on informal surveys of 700 Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce members, CEO Chris Hall estimated fewer than 1,000 people are paid the minimum wage, and then mostly as a training wage.
Some city business owners said Monday that they are already paying more than $10.10 per hour.
“I pay more than the new minimum because of how expensive it is to live in the city,” Tristan Gallagher, owner of Coast City Comics at 634 Congress St., said.
The minimum wage is not extended to “tipped” workers who make more than $30 per month in tips. They will continue to earn the state-allowed $3.75 per hour, unless accumulated tips do not amount to the new city minimum wage. Employers will then be required to make up the difference in pay.
The ordinance will be enforced by the office of the city manager. The wage will increase to $10.68 an hour on Jan. 1, 2017, and increase annually thereafter at the rate of inflation calculated in the urban measure of the Consumer Price Index.
The $35 landlord registration fees can be offset by discounts for buildings with full sprinkler systems, centrally monitored alarm systems, or nonsmoking policies. The minimum per unit fee is $15.
The Housing Safety Office was established in the current municipal budget and will be led by Arthur Howe III, administrator Ian Houseal, and three inspectors who are yet to be hired.
The office was recommended by a task force set up after the Nov. 1, 2014, fire that killed six people at 20-24 Noyes St. Landlords who do not register by Friday face potential fines of $100 per day, but enforcement of the ordinance has been deferred to Feb. 1, 2016.
In October, Howe said it may take as long as three years to set up and implement a full inspection program for the city’s estimated 17,000 rental units, and inspections will be prioritized by existing risk factors and/or complaints about buildings.
About 21,000 property owners will be billed monthly, quarterly or annually to help pay for an estimated $170 million in needed stormwater upgrades by 2030.
Anne Bilodeau of the city Finance Department said the invoice amounts determine the frequency of billing, with 1,400 invoices sent monthly, 18,900 quarterly and 700 annually.
City Water Resources Manager Nancy Gallinaro said Monday that city staff in several departments are ready to administer the fee and program, which is accompanied by a reduction of $1.50 per 100 cubic feet of wastewater to $8.20. Sample bills were sent in August, and residents can look up their assessments online.
Property owners can apply for credits for installing rain gardens or taking other measures to reduce the flow of stormwater from their properties.
Art Howe III, Portland’s housing safety administrator, will implement new rental inspection procedures funded by annual fees to landlords.