Portland councilors give raises to themselves, nonunion workers; OK new downtown noise rules

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PORTLAND — City councilors on Monday voted 7-1 to give raises to themselves and other nonunion city employees.

The City Council also approved the creation of a sound oversight committee to mediate noise disputes between Old Port bar owners and other residents and business owners.

The sale of a portion of city-owned land on Thames Street to allow the relocation of the Veterans Administration office was also approved.

City Councilor John Coyne said the Appointments and Nonunion Personnel Committee, which he chairs, recommended a 1.5 percent salary increase for 171 nonunion workers who received no raise last year.

In addition to department heads, city councilors are included in that group, as well as the city manager, city clerk and corporation counsel. 

Councilor Dan Skolnik, who serves on the committee, said councilors are currently paid $5,500 a year to serve on the council. The committee recommended the increase because the $140,000 was included in the current budget, he said.

Several residents, however, questioned the raises.

Robert Hains said the salary increases send the wrong signal to union members, including the city’s firefighters, who did not receive salary increases this year.

“The bosses are all getting raises,” Hains said. “What do you think the firefighters are going to do a year and a half from now? They’re going to get this 1.5 percent and more. Or they’re going to dig their heels in.”

Since only one council vote was needed to implement the raises, resident Steven Scharf, who noted council agendas aren’t released until the previous Friday, asked councilors to postpone the vote to allow additional public notice.

“I see this as an attempt to put this under the radar,” Scharf said.

Mayor Nick Mavodones said that last year some bargaining units received wage increases and that the firefighters offered to give up raises in exchange for a non-layoff clause.

Councilor John Anton was the only councilor to vote against the raise.

“The city’s financial position continues to be fragile and I am concerned about wage increases for both union and nonunion employees until we have more certainty around our revenues,” Anton said after the meeting.

Downtown noise

Councilors also accepted the recommendations of the Downtown Noise Task Force.

The primary focus of the proposal was to create a Sound Oversight Committee that could mediate disputes between owners of noise-generating downtown businesses and people complaining about excessive noise.

The four-person committee will include a city employee, a resident, an entertainment licensee and a police officer, who would lead the group.

The committee will meet with new entertainment licensees and recommend noise mitigation measures, City Attorney Mary Costigan said.

The group will also meet with license holders who receive two police-verified noise complaints from two individuals within seven days, or five complaints within 30 days.

Costigan said the committee will not have policing powers. Instead, the group will issue recommendations, which could require sound-proofing of buildings or revocation entertainment licenses.

“They would try to come to a place where the resident can sleep and the business can function,” Costigan said.

The changes also include increasing the maximum decibel level to 95dB from 55dB, which is considered unenforceable by police. Lt. Gary Hutchinson said police would take immediate enforcement action against those exceeding the new limit.

“The decibel level is a circuit-breaker – something so egregious that immediate action needs to be taken, ” said Doug Fuss, the owner of Bull Feeney’s on Fore Street and a task force member.

Veterans Administration

In other business, the council also agreed to sell nearly 3,000 square feet of city-owned land on Thames Street to Michael Marino for about $94,500.

Economic Development Director Greg Mitchell said the price was determined by the city assessor, who valued the land at $1.4 million per acre.

The land sits next to 144 Fore St., which is owned by Marino, and will provide surface parking for the Veterans Administration, which will move from its current offices at 475 Stevens Ave.

After the meeting, Marino said he expects demolition for the nearly $3 million project will occur as soon as permits are obtained from the city, which could be as soon as next week. 

He expects the VA, which will operate a physical and mental health clinic, to be in operation by March.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net