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- The Forecaster
PORTLAND — City councilors on Monday accepted the fiscal year 2020 school budget for review, appropriated donations made to the Community Support Fund and approved federal grant spending.
Before the meeting, Councilor Spencer Thibodeau’s planned absence was questioned by the local Democratic Socialists of America. Councilor Brian Batson also missed the meeting.
The $117.8 million education budget, unanimously approved by the School Board on April 8, will be reviewed in a public hearing by the Council Finance Committee at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 24.
School Board Chairman Robert Rodriguez outlined the budget Monday, noting the budget’s $7.2 million increase requires $5.8 million more in property tax revenue. It would add 61 cents to the present overall tax rate of $22.48 per $1,000 of assessed value.
Rodriguez said $2.6 million of the increase will fund the Portland Promise initiative to help close learning gaps affecting disadvantaged students and expand pre-K in the city.
A public hearing by the full council is scheduled for May 6. The council vote on the combined education and municipal budgets is scheduled for May 20. Councilors can amend how much is spent on education but have no control on specific line items.
The education budget will then face a June 11 referendum.
Councilors unanimously supported appropriating $45,000 in private contributions to the city Community Support Fund to be used for rent payments for asylum-seekers. City Manager Jon Jennings had budgeted $200,000 for the fund this fiscal year. So far, $235,000 has been spent.
The future of the Community Support Fund will be discussed in a Monday, April 29 council workshop at 5:30 p.m.
Councilors passed a $3 million spending plan for money coming largely from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to fund a variety of social, housing and business development programs.
City Housing Director Mary Davis said the city received $2,000 less in Community Development Block Grants, $131,000 less for housing programs, and $3,700 more for emergency service grants than last year.
The allocations include $1.9 million for CDBG, $1.02 million for housing and $160,000 for emergency services.
The entire spending plan was passed as recommended by Jennings.
Councilors narrowly rejected an amendment to CDBG spending by Councilor Pious Ali to allocate $10,000 to Furniture Friends, which provides furniture to homeless people who have found housing.
Councilors Jill Duson, Nick Mavodones, Justin Costa and Belinda Ray opposed the amendment, largely as Furniture Friends finished eight places below the top seven applicants in application scoring.
Earlier in the evening, Thibodeau was accused of lying about his holiday travel by the democratic-socialist group while seeking to postpone the council vote on a paid time off ordinance.
The vote was scheduled for April 8, but postponed as Ali was out of town on business. At the April 22 meeting, councilors again pushed the date back to May 6, in part because Thibodeau knew he would not be back until after 7 p.m. Monday.
Thibodeau, who with Ray and Costa is a declared candidate for mayor, had also been invited to speak Monday to the Portland Republican Central Committee.
“Rather than doing his job as a city councilor, he is campaigning,” Kate Sykes of the DSA said in an email Monday.
The invitation to speak at the GOP meeting came from a former high school teacher, he added, originally in March. It was then pushed back to Monday.
“I told him if I was back in time that I would join them, and I would be going in athletic gear,” Thibodeau said.
On Monday, Thibodeau said he arrived in Portland around 7:30 p.m., and attended neither meeting.
Portland City Hall, 389 Congress St.