Portland proposed budget includes fee hikes for trash bags, apartments, cemeteries, more

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PORTLAND — The municipal budget headed for a May 18 City Council vote could boost property taxes 35 cents.

But total funding for the $175.3 million includes much more than the budgeted $79 million in property tax revenue, and will be raised in part through a variety of fee increases.

One new fee that will be noticed almost immediately is a 35 percent increase in the cost of garbage bags required for collection of solid waste. The cost of 15-gallon bags will go from $1 per bag to $1.35, and the 30-gallon bags will increase from $2 to $2.70.

City Finance Director Brendan O’Connell said the increases should generate $518,000 in new revenue. Without the increase, he said in an April 23 memo to the City Council Finance Committee, the municipal tax rate would have to rise another 7 cents.

The total tax rate increase from combined school and municipal budgets and the city share of Cumberland County operations is expected to be 58 cents on the current rate of $20 per $1,000 of assessed value.

The $175.3 million municipal operations amount does not include the $46.5 million enterprise fund budget, which largely covers Portland International Jetport operations and does not affect the property tax rate.

Increasing prices for garbage bags will help recover increasing costs of the solid waste collection program, O’Connell said, and would be the first increase in the fee since 2010.

O’Connell said solid waste collections cost $3.8 million annually, with $1.9 million borne through property taxes.

The City Council Finance Committee, chaired by Councilor Nick Mavodones Jr., referred the municipal budget to the full council without a recommendation, but did accept the bag increase, somewhat grudgingly.

O’Connell noted that at $13.50 per roll, the price of garbage bags remains comparably low. In nearby Falmouth, a roll of 10 small bags costs $14.60.

Owners of the city’s 3,600 residential rental properties will be assessed a fee of $35 per rental unit, a fee that will help fund operation of the new city Housing Safety Office.

With about 17,000 rental units in the residential properties, the initial budget projection was more than $600,000 in revenue. The projection was scaled back by $178,000 in the April 30 Finance Committee meeting because officials do not expect to collect the full amount of fees.

O’Connell on Monday said $439,000 has been budgeted to fund office staff and rental unit inspections, based on suggestions from a task force created after a Nov. 1, 2014, fire that killed six people at 20-24 Noyes St.

Permit and license fees covering food service, construction, and animals are also increasing.

Food service and hospitality businesses will also be affected by higher license fees: Class A lounge and restaurant licenses will increase from $2,540 to $2,642 and $1,715 to $1,784, respectively. Annual food truck licenses will increase $20 to $520, pushcart licenses will increase $12 to $307 annually, and various hotel license fees will increase by 4 percent.

Fee increases will extend beyond life, too, with the Public Services Department proposing increasing cemetery fees by 10 percent across the board at Evergreen Cemetery on Stevens Avenue and Forest City Cemetery, which is actually on Lincoln Avenue in South Portland.

In an April 24 memo to former acting City Manager Sheila Hill-Christian, Public Services Director Michael Bobinsky said the fee increases are expected to generate $45,000 in additional revenue.

Included are new fees for the columbarium under construction at Evergreen Cemetery. The columbarium would have 300 niches to inter urns containing cremated remains.

Like the garbage bags, the fee increases at cemeteries are the first in five years.

The annual cost to keep chickens will increase $1 to $26, while the permit fee to open a street for construction work will increase $25 to $295.

Bobinsky said the increased fees to open streets and sidewalks will raise an additional $53,000.

The increase in chicken permit fees is expected to add $27 in new revenue, according to a memo from Deputy City Clerk Carolyn Dorr.

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

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.