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PORTLAND — City Manager Jon Jennings on Monday said it will be up to city councilors to set priorities as he proposed a $263.3 million budget for fiscal year 2020.
“The most difficult budget decisions we are facing this year are in our social services division,” Jennings said at the April 8 meeting. “… We simply cannot continue to provide all of the current services.”
Of the $263.3 million budget, $56.7 million is for enterprise funds that are sustained through revenues they generate, not property taxes.
The $206.6 million budget for the city’s general fund, which also includes the city share of Cumberland County operations, seeks a 2.9%, or 33-cent increase in the property tax rate. Of the present $22.48 per $1,000 of assessed value rate, $11.34 funds municipal operations.
Jennings has also proposed closing the overflow space for homeless individuals and families at the city’s General Assistance offices. Spaces at Preble Street Resource Center and the Salvation Army would remain open.
The city allocated $200,000 to a Community Support Fund this year. The fund assists asylum-seekers who are ineligible for other aid, and the allocation has been spent.
Noting the fund was set up in 2015 in response to the state’s refusal to reimburse General Assistance spending for asylum-seekers, Jennings is also proposing reducing next year’s allocation to $150,000 and recommends it be phased out in two years.
Mayor Ethan Strimling said Monday councilors are expected to add to the fund on April 22 to eliminate the current shortfall.
While keeping the proposed property tax increase below 3%, Jennings said he and city Finance Director Brendan O’Connell looked to other revenue sources. A job training program will be funded with tax increment finance revenues, and the city Housing Trust Fund would get $200,000 from proceeds of the sale for land where the WEX headquarters has opened.
Jennings also proposes to increase the cost of garbage bags from $1.35 and $2.70 per bag, depending on the size, to $1.50 and $3. It would be the first increase since 2015, and raise about $215,000. The city manager also wants to phase out the program eventually, and noted the city faces an increase of $372,000 in ecomaine solid waste tipping fees for next year.
As city government continues to reorganize, Jennings said the budget adds a net of six positions, with four in the Social Services Division. The city is shifting away from per diem staff at the Oxford Street Shelter, which has been open all day, every day for more than a year.
The new budget also allocates $200,000 to implement the Portland Senior Tax Equity Program approved by councilors in November 2017.
The program, for residents 62 and older, offers cash rebates up to $900 in a dollar-for-dollar match with state tax credits.
As councilors received the budget proposal, School Board members also approved a $117.8 million budget proposed by Superintendent Xavier Botana. The education budget will be presented to city councilors April 22.
The education budget would add 60 cents to the property tax rate, making the overall city tax rate for fiscal year 2020 $23.41.
Councilors have final say over the amount of the education budget, but no control over line items. The amount they set faces a June 11 referendum.
The valuation of city properties increased $85 million this year to almost $8 billion, but Jennings noted that translates into about $980 million, which would cover the increase in debt service for the pension obligation note which will not be paid off until 2026.
A full revaluation of city properties has begun, and its results will be part of next year’s budgeting process.
The municipal budget will now be reviewed by the council Finance Committee, which is led by Councilor Nick Mavodones. The committee first met Tuesday and will meet again April 23 and 24, before making its recommendation to the full council on May 2.
The first council reading is scheduled for May 6, with a 5:30 p.m. workshop on May 13. The final hearing and council vote on the entire budget appropriation is scheduled for May 20.
Portland City Manager Jon Jennings presented a $263.3 million budget Monday, warning the city could not sustain its spending on some social services.