Portland considers $18M plan for capital improvements

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PORTLAND — A plan to borrow $15.5 million for equipment, facility repairs, road work and school projects will have its first review Thursday, Feb. 22, by the City Council Finance Committee.

The fiscal year 2019 capital improvements budget actually sets out almost $18 million in spending, including $4 million for work projects and vehicles for city schools. The total plan cost is offset by $2 million of excess fund balances and $475,000 in reallocated funding from prior bonds.

Mayor Ethan Strimling will present his thoughts on the CIP budget as part of the Wednesday, Feb. 21, City Council meeting.

Specific plan details can be viewed on the Finance Committee web page at  http://bit.ly/2C4ismD.

The effect of the new borrowing will not be seen in the overall tax rate for next year’s budget, since the borrowing will occur during the next fiscal year. However, city Financial Director Brendan O’Connell estimated the plan would add as much as 5 cents to the fiscal year 2020 property tax rate as new debt service commences.

The city had been trying to keep its borrowing to the level of retiring debt to keep the tax rate constant, but O’Connell said City Manager Jon Jennings knew the practice was putting the city further behind in meeting its capital needs.

The current CIP of $20.4 million borrows $17.8 million and can be expected to add about 5 cents to the fiscal year 2019 property tax rate, as the borrowing is about $5 million more than debt that was retired.

O’Connell said each $1 million in new spending above retired debt likely adds 1 cent to the overall tax rate.

Budget documents detail an ever-increasing need for capital improvements. The list of departmental funding requests for fiscal year 2020 tops $59 million and is more than $31 million the year after that. What would actually be proposed for bonding will be part of the budgeting processes in those years.

The CIP budget includes $400,000 for purchasing and implementing the body camera program for city police following its trial run. Also on the municipal list is $430,000 for generator replacement at the Barron Center, $673,000 for turf replacement at Memorial Field at Deering High School, and $550,000 to install LED lighting at Hadlock Field.

Along the waterfront, the CIP spending includes $500,000 for utility upgrades at the Ocean Gateway Terminal and $150,000 for pier work. The concrete plaza in front of the terminal would be replaced at a cost of $100,000.

The largest expenditure in the $4 million for city schools is $1.25 million for sprinkler system installation at Deering High School. According to the memo describing the work, the school has a sprinkler system in the addition built in 1982, leaving 245,000 square feet unprotected by a sprinkler system, with 185,000 square feet of that being occupied space.

Also on the list is $712,000 to renovate Lincoln Middle School by moving the office to the front of the building while creating a more secure vestibule and installing new granite steps and a ramp and railings to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act.

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.