Portland mayor hopes to add prevailing wage requirement

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PORTLAND — Mayor Ethan Strimling would like to see some city contractors be required to pay prevailing wages and is preparing a proposal for a Sept. 12 City Council Finance Committee workshop.

“It is a statement of our values,” Strimling said Aug. 23. “We need to pay a living wage and be training the next generation of workers.”

A prevailing wage requirement typcially reduces the ability of contractors to “low ball” their costs for government contracts by minimizing labor costs.

Strimling on Monday said his proposal will require contractors who are awarded jobs of $50,000 or more for public roads or buildings to pay prevailing wages and provide apprenticeship programs.

The contracts would not cover providers of goods and services to the city, and Strimling said he could support rules that award bonus points for bids from contractors who have apprenticeship programs, as opposed to an absolute requirement.

The Sept. 12 workshop will likely not include public comment or any action by the committee, led by Councilor Nick Mavodones and staffed by Strimling and Councilor Justin Costa.

Strimling said he expects there will be a public hearing on his proposal at the Sept. 27 Finance Committee meeting. He hopes the full council will be able to act on the new rules by the time it concludes its annual calendar in November.

Prevailing wages are determined on a countywide basis by the state Department of Labor through annual surveys. The state already has prevailing wage rules in place for construction contracts of $50,000 or more.

Strimling’s former assistant, Jason Shedlock, said an overall prevailing wage requirement was considered two years ago when Strimling sought to amend city tax increment financing and credit enhancement agreement policies.

“The thinking was, if city policy is good enough to apply to private entities, it should be good enough when the city spends its own money,” Shedlock said.

Shedlock is now executive director of the Maine State Building and Construction Trades Council.

TIF policies were amended last November to require entities receiving a credit enhancement agreement with a TIF to pay prevailing wages while also ensuring employers did not discriminate in hiring and staffing.

The council did not pass a requirement for contractors to have apprenticeship programs, opting instead to explore having the city use its TIF funds to set up a program.

“I would have preferred we put it in, and we can see that nothing has really happened,” Strimling said about a training and apprenticeship program, adding he understands it will take time to get a program established.

A TIF allows the city to shelter increases in property valuations, typically for 30 years, and to use the money to fund public projects. TIFs may also include specific credit enhancement agreements allowing entities a share of the sheltered valuations to pay for future operating costs.

The new rules would include construction work for the four city elementary schools covered by a $64 million bond passed by city voters last November.

Prevailing wage requirements exist at the federal level, and in state and municipal governments throughout New England and the rest of the nation, including Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Washington and the cities of Denver, Cincinnati, and Worcester, Massachusetts.

While councilors amended wage rules last November, the TIFs and credit enhancement agreements made or considered would already have required prevailing wages to be paid because they are funded in part with money from the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development.

Avesta Housing spokeswoman Sara Olson said Aug. 24 the agency’s contractors are bound by prevailing wage rules because of HUD funding.

If councilors agree to allocate $370,000 of HUD grants to build affordable housing at 178 Kennebec St., prevailing wage rules would also apply to that construction project.

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

Contractors repave Allen Avenue Aug. 24 in Portland. Mayor Ethan Strimling would like to require companies with public road and building contracts to pay their employees local prevailing wages.

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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.