Portland City Council OKs tax increment financing on peninsula

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PORTLAND — City Councilors on Monday approved the creation of a tax increment financing district covering most of the peninsula.

They also gave new life to a committee to deal with noise complaints, primarily in the Old Port.

Also in the 60-minute meeting, councilors approved the appointment of Brendan O’Connell to be city finance director beginning March 3, and heard a rundown of snow removal operations over the last two weeks from Public Services Director Mike Bobinsky.

Greg Mitchell, director of economic development, said the new TIF district, encompassing the peninsula from State Street to Washington Avenue and fitting between TIF districts in Bayside and along Commercial Street, could provide $15.5 million in revenue over the next 30 years to improve transportation infrastructure and public transit to downtown Portland.

The money could be used to pay for sidewalk improvements, intersection realignments, and creating a “high-frequency bus corridor on Congress Street.” according to TIF documents.

In its first year, 12 percent of the increased property valuations will be set aside, with the amount increased to 22 percent for the remainder of the 30-year term. The area would cover about 422 acres, and $100,000 in TIF funds will also be used annually to fund marketing through the Creative Portland Corp.

City staff in the Economic Development Department will also be paid with $250,000 from TIF funds annually.

The new zone almost completely replaces a TIF zone set up to support the Arts District on Congress Street. The zone was reduced in size from 53 acres to less than one, and future funding will be used to support redevelopment of the former Baxter Library on Congress Street through 2019.

Noise complaints

City Code Inspector Chuck Fagone, Police Lt. Gary Hutcheson, Foreplay Sports Pub owner Rob Waitkevitch, and city resident Jack Murray will comprise the new “sound oversight committee” established to help mediate noise complaints.

The committee was initially recommended by a Downtown Noise Advisory Task Force formed in 2010, and created later that year. Given a term of three years, it had ceased meeting, but in response to complaints from operators of newer hotels about bar patrons in the Old Port, the committee was re-established by a unanimous council vote.

Police Chief Michael Sauschuck said any business generating two complaints a week will be investigated by an officer with a sound meter to see if noise exceeds 92 decibels. If the complaints are justified, the committee could help mediate solutions.

Snow removal

Bobinsky said crews have removed about 850,000 cubic yards of snow, but he warned the city is running out of room to hold what has been plowed after receiving 50 inches of snow since Jan. 26.

“We are beginning to look at alternative sites,” Bobinsky said, adding he has spoken with four private property owners in case the rate of storms and snow accumulation continues.

The city has recently spent about $50,000 on fuel, and $100,000 on private contractors to help with snow removal, and Bobinsky has set up daily meetings with other department heads and city school staff to assess priorities for removing snow from about 540 miles of city streets and 100 miles of sidewalks.

On Tuesday, city spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said the $1.4 million allocated in the current budget for snow removal has essential been spent.

Councilors on Monday also waived a second reading to approve O’Connell’s appointment as finance director and initial salary of $106,050. He replaces Ellen Sanborn, who took a finance post with the School 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.