Portland council rejects mayor's attempt to cut capital spending

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PORTLAND — A capital improvements bonding plan that could add 6 cents to the city property tax rate was passed by the City Council April 5.

But the fiscal year 2018 capital improvements plan could come back for another vote if the School Board amends the spending plan included with the CIP.

On Tuesday, the city School Board was expected to vote on whether to ask City Manager Jon Jennings to reallocate $1.2 million of CIP funding to construct a new entrance to Casco Bay High School.

The request had a first reading by the council April 5, but councilors decided to wait for the School Board vote on the request before moving to change the bond. The order can be brought back to the council for amendment, if needed.

The $27 million in spending for equipment, buildings and infrastructure includes $24.3 million in borrowing, with $17.8 million of that mostly paid for through future property tax revenues.

Bonds for sewer projects are generally repaid through revenues from user fees and the city stormwater assessment.

An amendment by Mayor Ethan Strimling’s to remove $1.4 million allocated for extending Thames Street near the former Portland Co. land at 58 Fore St. led to protracted debate, before it was rejected 8-1.

The $20.4 million municipal plan had been praised by Strimling the night it was first presented by City Manager Jon Jennings at a meeting of the City Council Finance Committee – with the exception of the money to link Thames Street with Fore Street.

“You can go all over the city to look at what are our needs. To me, this road is not a top priority,” Strimling said as he asked councilors to remove the spending item and reconsider it when the redevelopment of the former Portland Co. land is further along in the planning process.

Strimling’s thoughts echoed comments from the second public hearing on the CIP plan, in which speakers said extending Thames Street was an example of corporate welfare the city could not afford for a project that is still in the early stages of review.

“(Let’s) wait for the developer to come forward with a real Level III plan that can get site plan approval … $1.4 million could be put into a road that truly goes nowhere,” attorney Peter Murray of North Street argued.

Casey Prentice, a partner in CPB2, which plans to redevelopment the former Portland Company property, said the Thames Street extension is key to getting traffic movement permits for site plans.

Councilors opposed to Strimling’s amendment said it was a continuation of his opposition to selling city-owned land to CPB2 last November, which he said was done for less than market value.

“Tonight we see, just my thought, an attempt to renege on the deal,” Councilor David Brenerman said.

Others said the extension will not just benefit CPB2, since the extension includes amenities like brick sidewalks, benches and new lighting.

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

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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.