- Police Beat
- The Forecaster
PORTLAND — After a long night of public comment and several significant amendments, the City Council passed a combined municipal and school budget Monday that will increase property taxes by 83 cents per $1,000 of valuation.
The tax rate is expected to increase from the current $22.48 per $1,000 to $23.31 under the new spending package, according to city spokeswoman Jessica Grondin.
The combined budget ultimately passed on a vote of 8-1, with Councilor Kim Cook opposed.
While adding some spending back into the municipal budget for social services and other needs, and increasing the cost of metered parking, the council voted unanimously to remove $450,000 from the proposed school budget.
That move reduced the total school spending plan to nearly $117.4 million. It will now go to voters for approval in a citywide referendum June 11.
In supporting the reduction to the proposed school budget, city councilors noted it was still a sizable increase over the current year’s spending, and still allows the School Department to increase its pre-kindergarten program and better support student behavioral health.
Councilors also lauded the process this year, which they said was congenial and collaborative, as opposed to the contentious school spending debates last year.
The School Board initially sent a proposed school budget of $117.8 million to the City Council in early April, representing a $7.2 million increase in spending.
Several speakers Monday asked councilors not to reduce the school proposal, including substitute teacher Shannon Wade.
“It’s really important that you pass the entirety of the proposed school budget,” Wade said. “All of our students should have every tool at their disposal to reach their potential.”
And resident Kate Vaughn said “it’s a big mistake to make these cuts. I oppose any cuts to the school budget.”
But during deliberations, Councilor Belinda Ray noted even with the $450,000 reduction, the school budget represents an increase in spending of 6.2%.
Councilor Justin Costa agreed and said he wanted to emphasize that even with the cut, the school budget represents “an expansion of programming and a significant investment” in the School Department’s strategic plan.
Councilor Nick Mavodones, chairman of the council Finance Committee, said that while the School Department made “a compelling case” for the $117.8 million spending proposal, “this council is worried about what is sustainable.”
After adding funds to the municipal budget, the council ended up approving a total of $206.7 million in general fund spending, which includes the Cumberland County tax.
The total is approximately $100,000 more than what City Manager Jon Jennings originally proposed.
In all, the council approved adding $45,000 to the municipal budget to continue supporting Portland’s overflow emergency shelter and $50,000 more for the Community Support Fund.
That additional funding was unanimously recommended by the Finance Committee and was also fully supported by a very vocal group calling itself the Portland Inclusivity Coalition.
The group, which includes Preble Street, Homeless Voices for Justice, Southern Maine Workers Center, the Portland Overdose Prevention Site, Portland Outright and the Maine Immigrant Rights Coalition, argued throughout the evening Monday that the city has a moral imperative to care for its most vulnerable residents.
In addition, councilors added almost $51,900 to hire an additional person to help manage a new pesticide ordinance on public land, and gave $20,000 more to Cultivating Community, which operates many of the city’s community and school gardens, among other projects.
The budget increases were offset by a proposal from Ray to increase the cost of metered parking by 25 cents to $1.75 per hour, which ended up keeping the overall combined tax rate increase to 3.7%.
Portland City Hall