PORTLAND — Budget season begins in earnest Wednesday, April 5 at the 5:30 p.m. City Council meeting in City Hall.
Councilors will get an introduction to the $240 million municipal budget for fiscal year 2018 from City Manager Jon Jennings, and likely move forward on a stalled referendum question about funding for school repairs.
The council will also hold a second public hearing and vote on the $3.92 million Housing and Community Development Annual Action Plan and $24.3 million in capital improvement spending for education, sewer and municipal projects, equipment and infrastructure. The CIP would mean bonding $17.8 million in spending to be repaid from future city municipal budgets.
The $64 million question to pay for upgrades and renovations to Longfellow, Lyseth, Presumpscot and Reiche Elementary schools has languished in the council since March 20, in need of a seventh vote to get it on the ballot.
The deciding vote was unavailable because Councilors Nick Mavodones, Jill Duson and Belinda Ray presented less expensive alternatives they felt should also be on a referendum ballot.
But on March 31, Mayor Ethan Strimling and Mavodones announced they reached an agreement on a way to present two bond questions, for $64 million and $32 million, to voters Nov. 7.
“Nick and I met three times over a 10-day period, once on the phone, to see if there was a path where we could come together,” Strimling said Monday. “Both sides wanted something on the ballot.”
Mavodones was the only member of the ad hoc committee reviewing the school bond question to oppose the larger amount, and has advocated a bond to repair Lyseth and Presumpscot while waiting to see where the state Department of Education places Reiche and Longfellow on its new construction funding list.
Strimling said he expects the DOE will post a new list in January 2019.
Duson joined Mavodones in an amendment to the $64 million bond question that did not get the support of Strimling and the five councilors in favor of the full bond amount.
Although the council vote on the referendum questions and public hearing preceding it are expected to be postponed to April 24, Strimling said voters should expect to see two bond questions. Both would require majority votes to pass, and the question with the most votes in favor would be the one enacted.
Strimling said he remains a strong advocate for funding repairs at all four schools at once, although Mavodones has noted the state will automatically disqualify any schools getting locally funded repairs.
On Monday, Jennings said the new municipal budget is expected to add 27 cents to the municipal tax rate of $10.78 per $1,000 of assessed value. The overall property tax rate, including education spending and the city share of Cumberland County operations, is now $21.10.
The budget, including enterprise funds for stormwater, sewer, the fish pier and the Portland International Jetport, would increase from $236 million, while the valuation of local properties increases by $20 million.
As proposed in the budget, city fees will not increase except for hourly metered parking, which Jennings proposes to increase to $1.25 per hour. He expects the increase to add $600,000 in revenue.
Jennings said the budget meets the goal of capping overall property tax increases at 2.5 percent. He added the budget also continues to refocus on city services and infrastructure while adding nine positions overall.
Included is a proposed expansion of community policing in Parkside and Bayside by adding new two officers and a duty sergeant while also transferring another officer.
The city will continue to fund the HIV and sexually transmitted disease screening services and cost of staff and office space for the city needle exchange at the India Street Public Health Center, Jennings said.
While the city has taken bids on privatizing solid waste collection and had some discussions about privatizing the Barron Center, which provides assisted living and rehabilitation services, neither will be happening, Jennings said.
“We found we have an unbelievable staff that does incredible work and has never received support in terms of infrastructure,” Jennings said of the Barron Center.
Both the municipal and school budgets will be reviewed by the City Council Finance Committee through April. Public hearings will be held before the committee makes its recommendations, and a May 1 public hearing before the full council has been scheduled.
Portland City Councilor Nick Mavodones, left, and the reflection of Mayor Ethan Strimling as they listen to comments at a recent City Council meeting. They agreed March 31 on a way to send two bond questions to voters for repairs at city schools.