Proposed Portland budgets draw little public comment

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PORTLAND — A lot was said Monday during the 3 1/2-hour City Council meeting.

Very little of it had to do with the fiscal year 2018 municipal and school budgets facing May 15 council votes.

Councilors did approve adding $125,000 to federally funded social service programs; the funds came from proceeds after the sale of the Cotton Street parking lot.

Reallocation of $1.15 million in capital improvement plan funds for work at Casco Bay High School also passed, 7-2, with Councilors Nick Mavodones and David Brenerman opposed. The seven votes were required to amend the entire spending plan councilors passed last month.

Councilors also unanimously approved Institutional Overlay Zone amendments that will guide future development at the University of Southern Maine, Mercy Hospital, the University of New England and Maine Medical Center.

The scheduled public hearings on the budgets totaling $345 million drew no public comment, except from Salem Street resident Steven Scharf, who chided councilors for not placing the hearings closer to the top of the agenda.

Public comment on the budgets, which could increase property taxes 55 cents from the present $21.10 per $1,000 of assessed value, will be heard Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at a City Council Finance Committee hearing in City Hall.

The budgets also include the city’s obligations for Cumberland County operations, and are set to increase 2.6 percent. The council goal for the year was an overall increase of no more than 2.5 percent.

Councilors will also hold a workshop at 5:30 p.m. Monday, May 8, and a second public hearing before the full council vote May 15. The school budget referendum will be held June 13.

Before the first reads on budget items, councilors did revise two approved spending plans. The CIP allocation shift to renovate the “great room” at Casco Bay High School was the more contentious.

School Superintendent Xavier Botana said the plans were a part of initial CIP requests of $5 million. The funding was pared to $2 million in the $24.3 million CIP budget passed by councilors April 5, but Botana noted that approved spending included items that were a higher priority for city staff than the school board.

“Those were city decisions that didn’t have anything to do with the educational value of the projects,” Botana said.

The reallocation postpones window replacements at Deering High School, which Botana said were needed, but would not be considered deferred maintenance if not done this year.

Mavodones and Brenerman opposed the reallocation because they preferred to see how the school would place on the revised list of Maine Department of Education funding projects. Botana said any work, if approved, could be six years in the future and there was no way to determine if the building would be torn down or renovated.

Milestone reached

To provide funding for more detox space at the Milestone Foundation on India Street, and for a pilot jobs program for people who panhandle at city street corners, councilors had to amend the HUD Annual Action Plan passed April 5.

The change was needed because the Cotton Street parking lot, sold to J.B. Brown and Sons in March, was developed with U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development money, and its revenues funded elements of the annual action plan.

Milestone Executive Director Bob Fowler said the $100,000 granted to the nonprofit will pay for “smaller rooms that are more conducive to people’s healing” in the residential detox program. The money will also pay for implementing an electronic medical records system. 

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

Portland City Hall, 389 Congress St.

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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.