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South Portland adds 6 months to tar sands moratorium

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South Portland adds 6 months to tar sands moratorium

SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council on Wednesday extended a moratorium on tar sands and approved a transfer of $15,000 additional funds to the city property tax assistance program.

Councilors also authorized a $10,000 business loan for a start-up consignment shop in the Mill Creek-Knightville neighborhood, and moved closer to allowing sidewalk cafes throughout the city.

After a first reading and approval from the Planning Board last week, the vote to extend the tar sands moratorium another 180 days was 6-1, with Councilor Michael Pock dissenting, as he has on every vote concerning the moratorium. 

The city has been under the tar sands moratorium retroactively since last fall. Since February, a three-member draft ordinance committee has held weekly meetings to research and develop a permanent ordinance, with the goal to prohibit tar sands from being piped to the city's waterfront oil terminals.

"This is a very serious issue and they need more time to look at it, so I urge you to give them that," Tess Nacelewicz of Robinson Street told the council.

Councilor Linda Cohen said "I think we need to see this to the end."

The current moratorium expires May 5. The extension gives the committee until November to recommend an ordinance to the City Council, although the committee's schedule suggests members hope to reach an agreement by late May or early June. 

The moratorium can be terminated at any point if the committee feels it has finished its work.  

Tax assistance

As suggested by City Manager Jim Gailey during an April 14 workshop, the council on Wednesday authorized a transfer of $15,000 from contingency funds to give additional support for the city's tax assistance program.

City Finance Director Greg L'Heureux told the council that nearly 160 applicants were finally approved for the new Property Tax Fairness Credit, which replaced the city Circuit Breaker program this year after the Legislature added stricter qualifications for the refund last year.  

The applicants qualified for more than $48,000 in city assistance, but the city only budgeted $32,700 for the program, which would account for about 54 percent of each applicant's need.

Because of the changes to the program this year, L'Heureux said that the city had a difficult time budgeting costs, as he had not expected the smaller demographic of applicants to qualify for more maximum refunds, which is between $300 and $400. 

Bringing the funding up to $47,000 would account for around 82 percent of need.

Councilors said they were satisfied with that level of funding, although Mayor Jerry Jalbert offered an amendment to increase the transfer to $25,000 to get closer to fully funding the applicant need. 

Jalbert's amendment was defeated 6-1 after other councilors said they were concerned that funding the program entirely would create an unrealistic precedent for this and other programs.

"Of course I'd want it to be 100 percent in a dream world, but we've got to be fiscally responsible," Councilor Patti Smith said.

L'Heureux said the city would be mailing letters soon to applicants to let them know the amount of their refund.

Consignment shop

In other business, the council approved a community development revolving loan to Michelle and David Raymond for Heirloom Consignment at 161 Ocean St.

The council approved the $10,000, five-year loan by a 7-0 vote. The application was the second for the city's business revolving loan program, which was established in 2010 to assist new businesses.

L'Heureux said the loan program account has $140,000 available, and councilors said they hoped more businesses would take advantage of the program in the future. 

The council also approved a first reading for a new licensing ordinance that would allow businesses to use public sidewalks for outdoor seating.

The council last summer authorized a trial run by Cia Cafe in Knightville for tables, chairs and umbrellas on the sidewalk outside the Ocean Street business. Now it hopes to allow more businesses the same opportunity.

"With Cia, noise was the biggest concern, but that was not an issue as it turns out," said Councilor Melissa Linscott, whose real estate office is on Cottage Road in Knightville. "I haven't heard anything negative and I think it provides for an inviting atmosphere. I’m happy to see it moving forward."

The license would allow seating on city sidewalks that are at least 8 feet wide, which only includes parts of Knightville and Willard Square, and could eventually include parts of Main Street. Businesses could use the space from March 15 to November, and license fees will likely be around $25.

The council scheduled final action on the licensing for May 5.

Shelby Carignan can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or scarignan@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @shelbycarignan.