Portland council puts $15 hourly minimum wage on November ballot

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PORTLAND — City voters on Nov. 3 will decide whether to establish a $15-per-hour minimum wage by Jan. 1, 2019.

City councilors on Sept. 9, meanwhile, will revisit the minimum wage ordinance they passed July 6, amended to specify how service employees will be paid. The July 6 minimum wage vote, which increased the current tipped wage to $6.35 per hour, was reconsidered on a motion by Councilor Jill Duson.

The actions came Monday during a 75-minute workshop and four-hour meeting, where councilors also approved a land purchase to expand the Department of Public Services operations on Canco Road, accepted the master plan for redeveloping Franklin Street, and refused the permit for a Cannabis Farmers Market Festival.

The decision on a November referendum came after a so-called livable wage citizen initiative, drafted and circulated by members of the Portland Green Independent Committee, drew 2,400 signatures.

“I think it speaks to the commitment to living wages in Portland. I think it speaks to the fact we are in a crisis,”Green committee Chairman and mayoral candidate Tom MacMillan said as he urged the City Council not to add a competing measure to the referendum question.

Councilors rejected a motion by Councilor Ed Suslovic, who is also running for mayor, to add a competing ballot question patterned largely on the July 6 ordinance. It boosts the citywide minimum wage to $10.10 per hour on Jan. 1, 2016, and $10.68 on Jan. 1, 2017.

The livable wage ordinance will likely be joined on the ballot by a zoning and land use citizen initiative designed to thwart development at the Portland Co. complex at 58 Fore St. Councilors set an Aug. 3 hearing date for the petition as part of Monday’s meeting.

In a workshop preceding the meeting, councilors, City Corporation Counsel Danielle West-Chuhta, and Bernstein Shur attorney Glenn Israel considered how to amend the city ordinance to reduce the economic impact on wages employers pay service workers earning $30 or more a month in tips.

The wage or tipped credit is set by state law at 50 percent of the state minimum wage of $7.50 per hour. The city ordinance had set a tipped wage at $6.35 per hour, based on subtracting the maximum state tipped credit from the new city wage.

“This whole thing is complicated at all three levels,” Israel said.

Councilors asked the attorneys to draft two different changes to the ordinance to peg the tipped wage at either 50 percent of the state or city minimum wage.

Franklin Street

Almost a decade of study and planning on the future of Franklin Street, culminating with $27 million worth of suggestions to calm traffic, reconfigure intersections, and better accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists, is now in councilors’ hands.

No other immediate action expected.

“A yes vote answers what is the plan for Franklin, it does not answer how do we fund it,” Councilor Kevin Donoghue said.

Even at an assumed 25 percent city share, financing the improvements will become part of the Council Finance Committee discussions on future bond spending and priorities.

Canco Road

Councilors approved five separate orders to finance and swap land as part of a deal to buy the former PepsiCo plant at 250 Canco Road. The $4.3 million deal to purchase and renovate the plant will be funded by $3.4 million in bond spending and $930,000 in proceeds from city land sales, including the former Department of Public Works sand and salt storage area at 71 Hanover St. in Bayside.

The DPW shift to Canco Road will eventually face voter approval, because an estimated $8 million will be needed to fully convert the 13-acre site. The city also expects to sell remaining parcels used by the DPW in Bayside.

Marijuana festival

The Aug. 9 festival planned to showcase state caregivers and growers of marijuana will not occur, after councilors rejected an amended application seeking to fence off portions of Deering Oaks Park and charge admission.

The festival had been designated, but not permitted, by councilors in the spring. Organizers Justin Olsen and Nancy Shaw have said marijuana would not be sold or its use allowed.

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.