Portland city manager proposes 2.6% tax hike for 'status quo' budget

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PORTLAND — City Manager Jon Jennings on Monday introduced a fiscal year 2019 budget he described as a “status quo” spending plan that he struggled to keep within guidelines set by city councilors.

“It was very difficult to get to. I wish we could move forward more aggressively on what is needed in the city,” he said of the $247 million budget, which contains a 2.6 percent property tax increase.

If passed as presented, the budget covering municipal operations, city enterprise operations and the local share of Cumberland County operations would add 29 cents to the property tax rate, which is now $21.65 per $1,000 of assessed value.

The city share of the tax rate is now $11.04, with 76 cents of that paying the city share of county operations.

The municipal budget will now be reviewed by the City Council Finance Committee, led by Councilor Nick Mavodones, beginning at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, April 12 at City Hall.

The reviews will continue through the month until the committee holds a public hearing May 3 and forwards the budget with any amendments to the full City Council.

A council workshop is scheduled for May 14, with a hearing and a vote on the budget anticipated May 21.

Jennings said the budget also seeks to again increase the hourly fee at city parking meters, from the current $1.25 per hour to $1.50. The rates were increased last year to $1.25 per hour from $1. Parking rates at the Spring Street and Elm Street garages would be increased $1 per hour and $10 per month.

Annual business license application fees are proposed to increase $10 for the first application and renewals. Jennings said the fees have not been raised for a decade.

The entire budget and tax rate are based on a valuation of city property at $7.9 billion. That amount is expected to increase once a citywide revaluation is ready, likely by spring 2020. The fiscal year 2019 capital improvements budget contains the $1.05 million needed to fund the revaluation.

Beyond the property tax increase, the new budget anticipates about $12 million in excise tax revenue, an increase of $850,000.

The municipal budget presented eliminates a net 13 jobs, including the position of senior adviser to the city manager, held by Julie Sullivan, and deputy city manager, held by Anita LaChance, who is retiring in July. Two assistant city manager posts, however, would be added.

Jennings also proposes cutting six vacant positions at the Police Department, including four officers, a code enforcement officer and a sergeant. The officers and sergeant had been funded this year to bolster the city’s community policing presence. But they were never filled because the department is short-staffed by at least 18 officers, Jennings said.

The new budget would also cut one firefighter per shift from the city’s fireboat staff, although the firefighters would be shifted to land-based stations.

At the Barron Center, a rehabilitation and assisted living facility on Brighton Avenue, Jennings proposes to cut nearly 20 positions now unfilled because the occupancy rate is down and finding certified nursing assistants is difficult.

Increases affecting city finances include a 12 percent hike in health insurance premiums and the additional cost of keeping the Oxford Street Shelter open around the clock.

To meet council guidelines, Jennings said the city will not be able to fully staff positions to implement the pesticide regulations governing city-owned land enacted by councilors in January.

Mayor Ethan Strimling did not attend Monday’s meeting, and so did not present his required statement on the budget. Councilor Nick Mavodones, who leads the Finance Committee and presided over Monday’s full council meeting, said Strimling is expected to make his comments at the April 26 committee meeting.

At 5 p.m. Wednesday, April 11, the committee will review and make its recommendations on the fiscal year 2019 capital improvements plan. Debt service on the $15.5 million in proposed bonds would be part of the fiscal year 2020 budget.

On Thursday, the city School Board is expected to vote on a $112 million budget that would boost the tax rate 8 percent. The school share of the current $21.65 tax rate is $10.61 per $1,000 of assessed value. It would increase to $11.31.

Councilors and School Board members have already been meeting on the proposed budget as it has been revised. The council determines how much can be spent on education each year, but cannot direct how the money is spent by the School Department.

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

City Manager Jon Jennings, left, presents his fiscal year 2019 municipal budget to the Portland City Council on April 9. It will now be reviewed by a committee led by Councilor Nick Mavodones, right.

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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.