Portland City Council approves fiscal 2013 budget, fee hike for parking garages

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PORTLAND — The City Council approved a $206 million budget for fiscal 2013 on Monday night with little discussion or debate.

Among other things, the budget includes a 40 percent hike in the cost of hourly parking at two city-operated downtown garages.

“That concludes our work on the budget and results in passage of the budget,” Mayor Michael Brennan said after the councilors voted unanimously in favor of the spending plan.

Combined with the $94 million school budget passed by referendum on May 15, the budget that takes effect July 1 will result in a 2.9 percent property tax increase, to $18.82 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

“We have increased taxes and fees, which for me wasn’t an easy decision, but to me was the right decision because it allows us to maintain services,” the Finance Committee chairman, Councilor John Anton, said before the vote.

The budget avoids “reactive” spending cuts, while providing the means to investigate improvements to city departments and services that have careened off track, Anton said, including the Fire Department and Riverside Golf Course.

“This is a budget that is responsible and at the same time makes the investments for the city to move forward,” Brennan said. “I think it’s one that’s going to serve the city of Portland well in the upcoming year.”

There were few questions and comments from councilors and members of the public prior to the vote. Only two residents, a pair of frequent council meeting and budget workshop attendees, Robert Haines and Steven Scharf, spoke during the public comment period.

Anton and Brennan expressed surprise after the meeting that there had not been more debate about the proposed increase in the hourly rate at the city’s two parking garages, from $1.25 an hour to $1.75. Scharf spoke in favor of the increase; Haines opposed it.

Councilors only debated an amendment proposed by Councilor David Marshall to reduce the 50-cent increase to 25 cents, or $1.50 an hour. The amendment was defeated by a 5-4 vote, with Marshall, Brennan, and Councilors Kevin Donoghue and Ed Suslovic in the minority.

The budget as a whole parallels the original plan proposed to the council in early April by City Manager Mark Rees.

“What we did was take the manager’s proposal and tune it a little closer to the mayor and council’s priorities,” Anton said, including renewing an East End community policing position, shifting some school expenditures away from the city’s fund balance, and moving technology leasing payments to the Capital Improvement Plan, which the city will begin to tackle in coming weeks.

Andrew Cullen can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or acullen@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @ACullenFore.