Portland borrowing plan will not add to tax rate

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PORTLAND — The city’s capital improvement budget returns attention to some basic needs, according to City Manager Jon Jennings.

“We are really ramping up areas we have neglected, such as our fleet,” Jennings said Feb. 4 as he introduced the $15.1 million budget to the City Council Finance Committee.

Jennings has proposed spending $2.9 million for street and sidewalk repairs, a $1 million increase from the current budget.

“There is going to be a concentrated effort on sidewalk repairs this summer,” he said.

The new budget also increases spending on public facilities from $2.7 million to $4.1 million, while reducing spending on park-related projects from $1.1 million to $518,000.

Also included in the plan is $1.9 million for improvements to city schools, including removal of the ramp at Howard C. Reiche Community School.

The use of tax increment finance revenues generated in Bayside, funds from accounts dedicated to the Merrill Auditorium and Barron Center, and state education aid in excess of what was budgeted means the $15.1 million plan will require $12.9 million in new bonds.

The borrowing will not add to the city property tax rate of $20.63 per $1,000 of assessed value, city Finance Director Brendan O’Connell said, because it offsets debt that is being retired or refinanced.

However, the spending plan, which also includes $1.9 million for projects at city schools, is only part of the bonded debt structure in city finances. O’Connell noted the debt on a note taken out in 2001 to fund city pension obligations will add 19 cents to the tax rate.

Jennings said he is still working on the municipal budget and possible ways to offset the pension debt.

Last year, School Department Finance Director Ellen Sanborn, formerly the city finance director, said the financial note to meet pension obligations actually saves the city $850,000 annually. The debt will be retired in 2026.

About half of the current $14.5 million capital improvements budget finance by bonds was allocated for a new emergency communications system, which caused more deferrals of basic maintenance and upgrades.

Fleet spending will increase to $2.6 million from $2.1 million in the budget. Jennings noted the bulk of last year’s fleet spending was $1.3 million for a new ladder truck for the Fire Department.

The proposed increases are spread throughout Public Works and emergency services. Jennings praised the departments for extending the use of vehicles, but Public Works fleet services manager Kevin Austin offered a candid assessment of conditions.

“Some of our equipment is old, tired and corroded,” he said, adding the fleet of plow trucks averages 12 years old.

Jennings said it would actually take about $4 million annually to meet the fleet needs.

“This is one of those things where we need to treat our people better,” he said.

Although park spending is reduced, the plan calls for spending $250,000 to repair walkways in Lincoln Park, $200,000 for a second phase of drainage work on the athletic fields at Lyman Moore Middle School, and $80,000 to develop a master plan for the “Amethyst Lot,” city-owned open space between the Ocean Gateway Terminal and the former Portland Co.

At the meeting, O’Connell also outlined the five-year outlook for how bonds will affect the city debt, adding the city would have to spend $19 million to $21 million annually to meet its basic needs.

By matching retiring debt with new debt, the city could bond as much as $14.4 million in fiscal year 2019, but that amount would decrease to $7.9 million the next year.

The Finance Committee is scheduled to meet at 5 p.m. Feb. 25 to discuss the capital improvements plan for city sewer operations and improvements. Those bonds are paid through department revenues as opposed to property tax revenues.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Portland City Manager Jon Jennings makes city sidewalk repairs a priority in the capital improvement budget presented to city councilors Feb. 4.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.
  • Henry B Swap

    Alternative Headline:

    Portland’s New Spending Initiatives Prevent Reduction of Tax Rate