Portland City Council OKs Franklin Street water slide, restricts 'vaping'

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PORTLAND — City Councilors Monday approved a permit for the installation of a 1,000-foot water slide in the northbound lanes of Franklin Street for an Aug. 1 festival.

The potential release of 80,000 gallons of water was not all that flowed through the  3 1/2-hour meeting, where councilors also approved Police Chief Michael Sauschuck as acting city manager beginning May 8, a capital improvements plan that will allocate $7 million to replace the city emergency communications system, and adding electronic cigarettes to the city ordinance governing public tobacco use.

Councilors also accepted the $102.8 million school budget for fiscal year 2016; they will vote on forwarding it to the state-mandated voter referendum Monday, May 4.

The council will also accept public comment before the vote, but Councilor Nick Mavodones Jr. cautioned that councilors do not have line-item control over the budget and will be voting only on the total amount to be spent.

If passed as presented, the school budget would add 23 cents to the current tax rate of $20 per $1,000 of assessed value. The referendum on the school budget will be held May 12, with polls open from 7 a.m.-8 p.m.

Sauschuck will replace Sheila Hill-Christian, who has accepted a job as assistant city manager in Cincinnati, Ohio. Hired in 2013 as deputy city manager, Hill-Christian was named acting city manager on Sept. 4, 2014, after the resignation of City Manager Mark Rees.

Sauschuck is expected to hold the job until July 1, when a permanent city manager takes over. Meredith, New Hampshire-based Municipal Resources is conducting a candidate search, with a goal of having six finalists by May 6.

The $18.7 million CIP budget passed 7-1, with Councilor Jon Hinck opposed and Councilor Kevin Donoghue absent. More than $14 million of the plan covers municipal projects; the remainder covers storm water and sewer work, with bonds repaid by user fees.

The seven votes ensured replacing the communications system was considered an emergency measure that would not require a city referendum triggered by the level of expense. But Hinck and High Street resident Steven Scharf were unconvinced it was an emergency.

“You need to be honest with the people who are declaring an emergency because you did not do the proper planning,” Scharf said.

Mavodones and Councilor Jill Duson said they were convinced the emergency exists because of the age of the system and potential difficulties in finding replacement parts.

“There is full backup in the council agenda as to why this system replacement is an emergency,” Duson said. “It would be incredibly irresponsible, as has been suggested, for us to wait.”

After 25 minutes of varied public comments, councilors remained unconvinced e-cigarettes and vaporizers used as alternatives to cigarette smoking should remain outside the rules applied to tobacco use in public parks, beaches and outdoor dining areas.

Placing the devices in the ordinance does not ban their use in specialty stores, as Old Port Vape Shop co-owner Alex Russak had feared. The 7-1 vote, with Hinck opposed, came with little council comment except the endorsement from Councilor Ed Suslovic.

Suslovic is chairman of the Council Public Safety, Health and Human Services Committee, which unanimously supported the amendment March 10.

Those opposed to placing the devices in the ordinance included Michael Bell, a doctor who said e-cigs and “vaping” are potential lifesavers for people trying to quit smoking.

“It is extremely uncommon for someone who has never smoked to start vaping,” he said while disputing the vapor exhaled is as dangerous as second-hand smoke.

Sarah Mayberry of the Breath Easy Coalition of Maine disagreed with Bell, saying long-term effects of using e-cigarettes and vaporizers have not been determined.

“There is a lot left to be discovered about these products,” she said.

The Aug. 1 Slide the City festival on Franklin Street will extend between Cumberland Avenue and Fox Street, with organizers hoping to attract as many as 5,000 people and possibly continue the event on Aug. 2.

The southbound lanes of Franklin Street will remain open, including access from Interstate 295, the slide area will be fenced off, and city officials and organizers have been planning with the Maine Department of Transportation.

The event requires pre-registration, but tickets will be available on the day of the event at higher prices. The application to the city lists minimum pre-registration fees of $15 for a single slide, $30 for a triple slide and $55 for a VIP pass, without indicating any portion of sales will be shared with the city.

Slide the City, based in Provo, Utah, will pay for city services, including police and parking control officers, event staff, all associated food and vendor licenses, and signs, barricades and permits fees needed from the Public Services Department.

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.