Portland Council approves new department, firefighter contract

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PORTLAND — A new department dedicated to permitting and inspections was approved Monday night in a two-hour City Council meeting.

“This is the first step along the path of reorganizing city government,” City Manager Jon Jennings said after the approval that will also see an increase in building permit fees.

The approval was the last vote at a meeting where councilors also approved a new contract with firefighters, set the times for voting on the $29.7 million bond to build a new Hall Elementary School, prepared for the arrival of the first tenant of the Portland Technology Park and accepted a draft of a proposed South Portland ordinance on pesticide use for review by the Council Energy & Sustainability Committee.

The new Department of Permitting and Inspections would incorporate elements and positions from departments and offices, including Planning and Urban Development, the City Clerk and Health and Human Services, according to an Oct. 26, 2015, memo from Jennings.

The new department would require almost $600,000 to implement, including $280,000 in new salaries and benefits, $8,500 in training and $300,000 in new and upgraded technology.

The funding will come from an increase in building permit fees, where the $11 per $1,000 of estimated building cost beyond the initial $1,000 will become a fee of $15 per $1,000. In approving the department, councilors accepted an amendment from Councilor David Brenerman to charge $15 as opposed to the $16 per $1,000 proposed by Jennings.

Passage of Brenerman’s amendment means the difference of about $130,000 in new permit fee revenue from projects that have already received Planning Board approval, including the “Midtown” development on Somerset Street.

An amendment by Brenerman to cap building fees at $11 per $1,000 for projects that have received approval was forwarded to the Planning Board for review.

New contract

The four-year contract with International Association of Firefighters Local 740 was approved as an emergency measure so it can be implemented immediately. The contract is retroactive to Jan. 1, 2014, and effective until Dec. 31, 2017. 

Firefighters will receive 7 percent retroactive pay increases pegged to semi-annual dates beginning Jan. 5, 2014, a 1 percent pay increase on July 3, and an unspecified cost of living increase on Jan. 1, 2017.

The contract also redefines overtime wages so that the first 12 hours worked beyond a 42-hour work week will be paid at straight time.

Jennings praised union President Chris Thomson for his work getting the 92 percent vote in favor of the contract, and noted the new contract also clears the way for the new municipal health insurance plan expected to take effect Jan. 1, 2017.

No voting at Expo

Polls will be open 7 a.m.-8 p.m. April 5 for the referendum vote on the bond to replace Hall Elementary School. However, voters who typically use the Portland Expo on Park Avenue will be casting ballots at Reiche Elementary School, 166 Brackett St., as the Expo will be in use for the annual dinner welcoming the Portland Sea Dogs to town.

The proposed ordinance regulating use of pesticides in South Portland has been reviewed there in City Council workshops, with a possible first reading coming at the end of this month.

The Portland Council Energy & Sustainability Committee, with Councilor Jon Hinck as chairman, is expected to review the South Portland ordinance on Tuesday, March 15, in a meeting beginning at 5 p.m. at City Hall.

Hinck and Councilor Ed Suslovic, who serves on the committee, said the review does not mean the committee will adopt the ordinance as its own. 

Noting South Portland used elements of the Portland ordinances adding fees for bags at grocery stores and banning polystyrene cups and packaging, Suslovic also welcomed the reversed process.

“This is not a rubber stamp by any stretch of the imagination,” he said.

Jennings said Patrons Oxford, an insurance company that had been based in Oxford, will close Friday morning on its purchase of a site at the Portland Technology Park on Rand Road. The company will become the first to occupy one of seven sites on the property.

To enable the move, councilors approved easements to connect communications and electricity to the site, and a condominium agreement that provides for maintenance of the access road. 

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

Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling listens to public comment March 7 during the City Council meeting.

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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.