Property tax rate hits milestone in proposed Portland budget

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PORTLAND — Late revisions to the $221 million municipal budget for fiscal year 2015 have slightly reduced the proposed tax increase, but the property tax rate is still expected to increase 3 percent to $20 per $1,000 of assessed value.

In a brief workshop Monday night, councilors reviewed changes to the budget for city operations and its share of Cumberland County obligations. The final council budget vote comes Monday, May 19, when additional public comment will be heard.

The municipal share of the tax rate will increase 3.5 percent to $9.89 of the $20 rate, with the remainder covering the $101.6 million education budget that went to voters Tuesday. The city general fund spending will increase by $5.5 million to $176.3 million, and property taxes will provide $75.7 million of the revenue. School spending will require $77.4 million in property taxes.

The current tax rate is $19.41 per $1,000.

The Council Finance Committee unanimously approved the budget May 8, while also adding $142,000 in expected revenues from the International Marine Terminal, Baron Center and penalty charges for delinquent payments.

The budget would also add staff by creating a part-time Public Services position to support the permitting process for city events and festivals; a transportation planner and policy analyst for the Planning Department, and by making a part-time position in the office of the corporation counsel office full-time, with the cost to be shared with the Police Department. The city is also seeking to restore a park ranger position to a full-time status.

Non-union municipal employees will get 1 percent pay increases on July 1 and again on Jan. 1, 2015.

Debt service payment of $35.1 million is the largest municipal budget expenditure.

The budget also counts on increased fee revenues that will make building, gardening and flushing more expensive. The revised fees are detailed in orders separated from the budget resolve submitted by City Manager Mark Rees on May 5.

Building fee calculations could be amended to charge $25 for the first $1,000 of building cost and $11 for each additional $1,000 of cost. The current fees assess $30 for the first $1,000 and $10 for each $1,000. The revision is expected to bring more than $200,000 in new revenue, compared with the $1.52 million the city collected this fiscal year.

City Planning Director Jeff Levine said Friday the fees assess the actual cost of building materials and work, not the “soft costs” associated with land acquisition, and engineering and permitting fees.

The fee to remove a stop work order on a project would triple to $300, while an occupancy permit fee would increase from $75 to $100.

Sewer fees will increase from $8.35 per hundred cubic feet to $8.81, a 5.5 percent increase. The additional revenue will fund operations and the continued projects to separate storm and waste water flow, especially in the Back Cove area.

Doug Roncarati, the city stormwater program coordinator, said Monday funding the Tier III work to separate the flows does not include work at the Rockland Avenue outflow into Capisic Pond and pond restoration efforts, because those are capital improvements projects funded in the current budget.

Sustainability will also cost more, with the rental fee for a city-owned community garden plot increasing from $35 to $50. Buying a new recycling cart will cost $65, up from $50.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or 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.