Portland City Council sends school budget to voters

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PORTLAND — Property owners could face a tax increase of 62 cents per $1,000 of assessed value if the proposed fiscal year 2015 education and municipal budgets are enacted.

The increase would result in a tax rate of $20.03 per $1,000 of assessed value.

On Monday, the City Council, with Councilor Jon Hinck opposed, gave its blessing to a $101.6 million education budget. The spending plan now goes to a May 13 voter referendum, as required by state law.

Councilors unanimously accepted an overall budget resolve from City Manager Mark Rees that also detailed the proposed overall $220 million in spending for city and Cumberland County obligations.

The Council Finance Committee, with Councilor Nick Mavodones as chairman, will hold its final meeting on the municipal budget at 6 p.m. Thursday night, May 8. Public comment on the municipal budget will be accepted at the May 13 City Council meeting.

The spending will require more than $153 million in property tax revenue, with $76 million for municipal operations and $77 million for schools.

Councilors approved six specific orders for the education spending, with four opposed by Hinck because, he said, they represented “the first votes on the budget as a whole.”

Hinck said the 2.5 percent increase in property tax revenues to fund education more than make up for a reduction in state Department of Education subsidies, and said the School Department needs to be more fiscally aware.

“If you are going to try and constrain tax increases, you have to look at everything,” he said. Hinck was the only councilor to vote against the orders.

As he did when introducing the budget in April, Rees outlined increased private investment in the city, which has tripled to $91 million from 2011 to 2013, and an increased $87 million in overall property valuations.

But offsetting increases in property taxes by increasing building permit fees and penalties for civil traffic violations drew some criticism. Rees expects building fee revisions to produce an additional $200,000 in revenue.

Chris O’Neil, representing the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the revisions could dampen development because of the increased cost of mid- and large-sized projects.

Budget supporters included Parks Commission members Steven Morgenstein, Cynthia Loebenstein and Ralph Carmona, who praised Rees’ intention to hire a city park ranger.

Morgenstein said the rangers are the “eyes and ears for Public Services,” and the $19,000 budget increase, to about $35,000, could be offset by having a ranger on hand earlier in the year to collect fees where required.

Rees also proposes hiring an ordinance enforcement officer, and spending $50,000 to help sustain the Homeless Outreach and Mobile Engagement Team, operated by the Milestone Foundation. Known by its HOME acronym, the service provides intervention and assistance for homeless people with mental health and substance abuse issues.

Funding for the service was not included in this year’s Community Development Block Grant program, and Rees said the service will require $25,000 more from community partners to fully operate.

Rees said he reduced budget requests by $3.7 million before submitting the budget to councilors. Before the council accepted his resolve, it also tabled votes or accepted first readings on orders for the increased fees; a 1 percent wage increase for nonunion municipal employees, and a $500,000 bond to pay past worker’s compensation claims.

Councilors also approved $640,000 in improvements at Ocean Gateway Terminal to accommodate the Nova Star ferry, including a catwalk and gangplank. The work will be funded by the Maine Department of Transportation. The Nova Star will begin daily trips to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, on May 15.

Other waterfront activity was boosted when councilors approved a festival license for a June 12 show at the Maine State Pier by country music artist Dierks Bentley. The show will be produced by Waterfront Concerts, the Orono-based promoters who are also hosting an Aug. 3 show by 3 Doors Down and the Aug. 10 Reggae Fest at the pier.

Councilors also took the final step to advancing their denial of the liquor license for Sangillo’s Tavern at 18 Hampshire St., by unanimously approving the written record of the hearing and findings compiled by city Corporation Counsel Danielle West-Chuhta.

The council voted 5-4 against renewing the annual license, a decision bar owner Dana Sangillo and his aunt, bar manager Kathleen Sangillo, have said they will appeal to the state Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations.

The bar is now represented by attorney Tim Bryant of Preti Flaherty, who presented councilors with a letter contesting the account presented by West-Chuhta.

Councilor Cheryl Leeman, who supported renewing the license, moved to have Bryant’s letter included in the record West-Chuhta will forward to the state. But her motion failed to receive support from any other councilors.

Sangillo’s is expected to remain open during the appeal process, which could take months.

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

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Where to vote May 13

Portland polls will be open 7 a.m.-8 p.m. for the May 13 referendum on the $101.6 million fiscal year 2013 education budget.

• District 1-1: East End Elementary School, 195 North St.

• District 1-2: Merrill Auditorium Rehearsal Hall, 20 Myrtle St.

• District 1-3: Peaks Island Community Hall, Peaks Island.

• District 2-1: Reiche Elementary School, 166 Brackett St.

• District 2-2: Exposition Building, 239 Park Ave.

• District 3-1: Woodfords Congregational Church, 202 Woodfords St.

• District 3-2: Italian Heritage Center, 40 Westland Ave.

• District 4-1: St. Pius Church, 492 Ocean Ave.

• District 4-2: First Baptist Church, 360 Canco Road

• District 5-1: Stevens Avenue Armory, 772 Stevens Ave.

• District 5-2: Grace Baptist gymnasium, 476 Summit St.

For more information on districts and the referendum, call City Clerk Kathleen Jones at 874-8610 or email cityclerk@portlandmaine.gov.

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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.