Portland Finance Committee to review borrowing proposals

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PORTLAND — The City Council Finance Committee on Thursday will review two bonding plans affecting the future of city schools and infrastructure.

Public comment will not be accepted when the three-member committee discusses the proposed $61 million bond to upgrade and renovate four city elementary schools.

Following review of the plan, forwarded with unanimous School Board support, councilors will get a first look at the $20 million fiscal year 2018 capital improvements plan from City Manager Jon Jennings.

The panel, led by Councilor Nick Mavodones Jr. and including Councilors Pious Ali and Justin Costa, meets at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 9, in City Hall Room 209.

Councilors are very familiar with the bond question to improve Longfellow, Lyseth, Presumpscot and Reiche schools. Mavodones and Costa served on the ad hoc committee formed by Mayor Ethan Strimling that reviewed the $70.6 million bond forwarded by School Board members last June.

Ali, a former School Board member who won an at-large council seat in November, has supported the bond, which was reduced to $61 million in December after a proposal from Strimling and School Board member Marnie Morrione.

Mavodones was the sole ad hoc committee member to vote against the $61 million bond.

On Monday, he said his opposition is based largely on timing. He would like to see a $35 million bond to upgrade Lyseth and Presumpscot, while Reiche and Longfellow are placed on the list of construction projects that might be funded by the state Department of Education.

Because he expects the state to decide on which projects to fund next year, and because no new construction would begin by then, Mavodones said the wait-and-see approach makes sense and he would be willing to discuss city bonding if state funding does not become available.

Costa, who also served on the School Board and has been part of the discussion on renovating schools since it began four years ago, has advocated getting the best value for taxpayers and students, but is ready to move forward after years of study and review.

According to Finance Committee materials, the bond would lead to annual 3 percent increases in property taxes over six years, amounting to a total increase of $148 on a home valued at $225,000.

The reduced bond also eliminates elements such as added second floors at Lyseth and Presumpscot schools, and reduces the size of additions to the gymnasiums. Remaining improvements will make Longfellow School compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act, add learning space at Reiche, and eliminate the modular classrooms now used outside Lyseth and Presumpscot schools.

A public hearing on the bond has not been scheduled by the committee, but will be held before the bond question is forwarded to the full council. The council will also hold a public hearing before deciding whether to put the bond question on a referendum ballot, an action that requires support from seven councilors.

Capital improvements

After several years of capital improvement plans that matched bonding with retiring debt, Jennings will introduce a $17.8 million plan, about $5 million above the $12.8 limit that would not incur a property tax increase.

The spending plan includes $2.6 million for school improvements, and actually totals $20.4 million. The plan will also use $540,000 from the Bayside tax increment finance zone and $2 million in existing fund balances.

“We are so far behind, negligently behind in our need for infrastructure improvements,” Jennings said Monday. He estimated the bonds would add 5 to 7 cents to the $21.10 property tax rate.

Jennings said resolving the backlog of needs for vehicles, repairs and improvements to city sidewalks and traffic signals should be a part of the whole discussion of city needs.

“I support rebuilding the schools,” he said, “But we cannot cripple the city side. This is a common-sense, balanced approach, and I am happy to be criticized for it.” 

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.