Police, fire chiefs say they can cope with job cuts
PORTLAND — In an effort to keep property taxes at current levels, the City Council will look for nearly $275,000 in cuts to the proposed fiscal year 2010 municipal budget.
The council Finance Committee met Tuesday afternoon with several city departments to discuss the proposed combined school and city budget of $280.5 million. City Manager Joe Gray has proposed a $189 million city budget, while the schools have put forward a $91.4 million proposal. Although both budget proposals represent spending increases, the school budget reflects an $881,000 decrease in local property tax dependency because of increased state subsidies. The city is proposing a 0.6 percent increase in spending.
Combined, the proposals would add 4 cents to the property tax rate, from $17.74 to $17.78 per $1,000 assessed value.
City Councilor Nick Mavodones, the chairman of the Finance Committee, on Tuesday indicated the council will look to trim the budget so property taxes do not increase at all.
“The council is going to look to get this to zero,” he said.
Councilor John Anton proposed that the schools and the city each try to cut about $150,000 from their budget proposals.
School Committee member Kate Snyder, chairwoman of the school Finance Committee, said she would bring the request back to the full school board.
The city Finance Committee also met with police and fire department leaders to discuss their budgets. Both departments face six personnel cuts.
Acting Police Chief Joseph Loughlin said the department is applying for a federal grant that could fund additional officers. He also said the department was awarded a $700,000 Department of Justice grant to pay for equipment that is not being funded in the 2010 budget, including new cruisers and a new police van. He said the van the department has now repeatedly breaks down.
Police Department unions earlier this month rejected the city manager’s request to reopen contracts and forgo a pay increase in 2010. Gray said that unless the unions accept this agreement, positions at the department would be cut.
Loughlin said the department will adjust if officers are eliminated.
“The message is, keep doing business,” Loughlin said. “Whatever we end up with, we’ll deal with and move on.”
Fire Chief Fred Lamontagne also met with the committee to review his budget. Also faced with six cuts, he said the Fire Department would eliminate one of four firefighter positions assigned to Engine 9 at the Riverton Station.
Lamontagne said that because the law requires “two in two out,” the reduction would mean that when Engine 9 responds to a fire and is first on the scene, firefighters could not enter the building because two have to enter, while two firefighters have to remain outside. While every other engine company in the city has three firefighters, the Riverton Station is located farther away from another station than any in the city, which means response times could lag.
“There could be some delay,” said Lamontagne, adding, “we’ll make it work.”
The Fire Department’s mission is changing, as Lamontagne put it, with an increasing number of calls for emergency medical response rather than fires. The department this year will train 12 firefighters to become paramedics in response to the change. A majority of firefighters are already certified as emergency medical technicians.
The Finance Committee will hold a public hearing Thursday, April 16 at 5 p.m. at Deering High School to accept comment on the proposed school budget. The City Council is scheduled to vote on a 2010 budget May 18. There are several Finance Committee meetings scheduled in the next month. For the schedule, go to portlandmaine.gov/finance.htm.