Portland City Council approves pier concerts, new General Assistance rules

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PORTLAND — The show will go on at the Maine State Pier in 2017, city councilors decided Monday.

The final City Council meeting of 2016 took four hours. Councilors also approved changes to the city’s General Assistance and minimum wage ordinances to conform with state laws, and to create a city office to help connect immigrants and employers.

And they showed their appreciation for City Manager Jon Jennings by giving him a 12 percent salary increase.

By a unanimous vote, councilors authorized Waterfront Concerts to begin scheduling 2017 concerts at the Maine State Pier, off Commercial Street next to the Casco Bay Lines terminal.

The vote does not prevent the city from limiting the number of shows or enforcing new noise regulations, but allows promoters to move ahead with scheduling.

“This is not a waterfront concert series, this is a waterfront assault,” Peaks Island resident Arthur Fink said as he asked the council to reject the authorization order.

Councilor Belinda Ray agreed with Fink that the concerts were too noisy and, in some cases, too frequent.

“If I lived in a place where those concerts were audible, it would have been intolerable for me,” Ray said.

Waterfront Concerts hosted 28 shows last summer, up from five in 2014, and Jennings said he will hold a workshop to discuss the noise and possible abatement methods in February.

Jennings also noted the future of pier concerts may be limited, since the Economic Development Committee next year will be considering ways the pier can be redeveloped.

General Assistance

The changes to the city General Assistance ordinance were made to comply with the 2015 state law regarding aid given to immigrants who are “lawfully present” or seeking asylum in the country.

General Assistance vouchers for food, housing, medicine and other necessities are reimbursed by the state, but the city has also funded vouchers for people now ineligible by state standards without seeking reimbursement from the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Councilors were urged by Susan Roche of the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project and Joby Thoyalil of Maine Equal Justice Partners to pass an ordinance to protect the city’s policy to distribute vouchers for those deemed ineligible by the state.

But city Corporation Counsel Danielle West-Chuhta said the separate ordinance could create a conflict with the state DHHS that would result in reimbursements being withheld.

Jennings said the city has set aside $250,000 in municipal funds to provide aid to anyone left ineligible by state rules, with about $80,000 spent for 90 people so far this year. He said he would seek more funding this year if needed, and would add funding in the fiscal year 2018 budget.

Councilor Pious Ali proposed postponing the vote to Feb. 6 in order to allow more outreach to those affected by the changes, but the motion failed.

West-Chuhta said amending the ordinance was critical because of the possibility the state would withhold reimbursements for noncompliance.

“Acting on it today is important from my perspective,” she said.

The new Office of Economic Opportunity will be staffed by a director and two coordinators and mostly underwritten by grants. Council support was unanimous for the resolution to make sure immigrant job-seekers and employers connect. Council David Brenerman moved to amend the name to include that the office would be serving “serving immigrants, people of color and other underserved populations.”

Mayor Ethan Strimling supported adding the tag line, while Ray and Councilor Jill Duson worried it would be too limiting in terms of future outreach by the office. Ray and Councilor Spencer Thibodeau opposed the motion to add the tag line.

City workers earning more than $30 a month in tips will have their base wages increased to $5 per hour from $3.75 as councilors approved the increase to conform with the state wage minimum referendum passed by voters Nov. 8.

On Jan. 1, the city minimum wage will increase to $10.68 per hour as well. Employers must pay the hourly wage to tipped employees when their gratuities fall below the minimum wage.

Jennings gets a raise

Councilors unanimously supported an $18,000 raise for Jennings, retroactive to July 1. The total includes a 2 percent cost-of-living increase, 5 percent for merit pay, and a 5 percent market adjustment. Jennings was hired July 13, 2015, at a salary of $148,000.

“In the time he has been here, I think he has done an incredible job. I think he has done exactly what we wanted when we hired him,” Councilor Nick Mavodones Jr. said.

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

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.