Portland budgets add up to 3.8% tax hike

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PORTLAND — Property owners could face a 3.8 percent tax increase after city councilors on Monday approved a $248 million municipal budget for fiscal year 2019.

At the outset of the three-hour meeting, councilors also approved the final orders needed to send the $110.6 million school budget to a June 12 referendum.

If approved by voters, the education budget, combined with the municipal budget and the city’s share of Cumberland County operations, would add 83 cents to the present tax rate of $21.65 per $1,000 of assessed value.

If turned down by voters, the School Board would have to approve a new budget to be forwarded to city councilors before going to a second referendum.

Within the expected $22.48 property tax rate, $11.34 would fund municipal operations, and $11.14 would fund the School Department. The overall increase in needed property tax revenues is $8.2 million, for a total of more than $177 million.

Working from the budget approved by the City Council Finance Committee on May 9, councilors also amended the new budget, despite initial misgivings expressed by Councilor Nick Mavodones, who leads the committee.

“I struggle because the city manager brought in a budget that made a lot of hard choices,” Mavodones said.

One amendment, offered by Councilor Kim Cook, increases fees on all business licenses by 5 percent. 

Another motion by Cook to reduce city salaries by $145,000, including benefits, failed, and she did not offer a motion she considered to increase building permit fees from 1.5 percent per $1,000 to 1.6 percent.

“If we don’t do this, we will be pushing up very hard at a 4 percent property tax increase this year,” Cook said as she outlined her plans to shift revenue from property taxes.

The license fee increase is expected to add $60,000 in new revenue, which could offset $60,000 added to the budget to fully implement the city’s responsibility for new pesticide regulations that councilors approved in January.

The amendment adding funding for staff and some equipment was offered by Councilor Spencer Thibodeau and Mayor Ethan Strimling, but was pared back from $110,000 when it appeared that amount would not gain council support.

Councilors also supported adding $38,000 to cover an increase in dues to the Greater Portland Council of Governments.

A discussion about adding $54,000 for an officer dedicated to community policing in Bayside drew little support, so Strimling decided not to offer that amendment.

Councilors opposed budgeting the unfilled position because City Manager Jon Jennings and Police Chief Michael Sauschuck have said the more urgent department priority is filling 18 vacant patrol positions.

Two additional proposals by Strimling were referred to two committees for more review. One could increase commercial building permit fees to fund workplace development programs and staffing at the Office of Economic Opportunity. The second motion would increase fees for short-term rental units to add revenue to the city’s Housing Trust Fund.

Already within the approved budget were fee increases that include a 25-cent-per-hour boost in parking meter fees to $1.50. The fine for parking at an expired meter was increased from $15 to $20. Parking beyond the time allowed at free spaces will now cost $25, up from $20. The increased fines take effect July 1.

Fees were also increased throughout the Planning Department, with many more than doubling: zoning map changes and text amendments will rise to $7,500 from the current $3,000, and site plan application fees will increase, depending on the square footage, with fees on sites under 50,000 square feet rising from $750 to $2,750.

For the first time since stormwater fees were enacted in 2016, they were increased, going from $6 per 1,200 square feet of impervious surface to $6.30. The revenue generated helps fund city sewer separation projects designed to reduce wastewater flow in Casco Bay as mandated by the state and federal government.

City sewer rates will also increase from $9.65 per 100 cubic feet to $9.95.

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

Portland City Hall, 389 Congress St.

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.