South Portland city budget proposal requires 3.7% tax hike

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Municipal spending increases $1.4 million to $36.6 million in the fiscal year 2020 budget City Manager Scott Morelli presented to the City Council Tuesday night.

The proposed budget would add 20 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to property tax bills, part of a projected overall 67-cent increase that also funds education and the city’s share for Cumberland County operations.

The budget proposed by School Superintendent Ken Kunin would add 43 cents to the tax rate, while the assessment from Cumberland County adds 4 cents with a $167,000 increase to $2.95 million.

The present city tax rate is $18.50 per $1,000 of assessed value. If the combined budgets are passed by councilors and voters, the new tax rate would be $19.17.

The general fund budget encompassing city, school and county spending is $92 million, up from $88.3 million, and will require $67 million in tax revenues.

The overall proposed fiscal year 2020 budget picture with city, school, sewer-user funds, enterprise funds (which generate their own revenue), and grant funds is $107.6 million, up from $103.6 million.

Councilors will hold an April 2 public hearing on the municipal budget, and workshops on April 13, 23 and May 7. The council’s municipal budget vote is scheduled for June 18.

The proposed 3.7 percent tax increase, to $5.59 on the municipal portion of the budget, falls within the council guideline of a 3.75 percent increase, Morelli said in his budget introduction letter.

Meeting the spending goal required the city to trim its budget request and find other revenue totaling $1 million, he said. 

The city will use $500,000 from surplus and its tax stabilization fund, and forgo $250,000 requested in new personnel costs spread across several departments. 

A proposed $73,500 position in the city information technology department and a $47,000 lifeguard job were among those removed from consideration. 

Salaries and benefits comprise almost 68 percent of the municipal budget. At $24.8 million, the increase is 4.26 percent, or $1 million. The increase stems largely from positions added halfway through the year that are now budgeted for a full year, including four new firefighters, Morelli said.

The new budget also addresses council goals outlined in January, he said.

It funds a full-time sustainability coordinator, which is now a part-time job. Library staff outreach hours will be doubled to 16 per week, which Morelli said benefits the aging-in-place process.

The city health officer, who is also a firefighter, will see weekly hours doubled to eight, Morelli said, and the police will have a “pipeline” position allowing a new recruit to be trained at Maine Criminal Justice Academy and be ready to replace a retiring officer.

Morelli said the budget also addresses the need to increase diversity in municipal hiring by providing two full days and four half-days of diversity and workforce training for human resources staff. 

The capital improvements portion of the municipal budget allocates $100,000 to begin work on a waterfront master plan, including adapting to sea-level rise and environmental cleanups. 

Augmenting property tax revenues are a budgeted $200,000 increase in excise taxes to $6.8 million, and a $250,000 increase in state revenue sharing to $1.5 million.

Before the order setting the April 2 budget hearing was presented, councilors unanimously supported increases to Morelli’s salary, his city pension contribution and the number of annual vacation days he receives.

Morelli received a $7,000 raise to $132,000 annually. The city increased its annual contribution to his pension to 7.5 of his base salary, up from 5 percent.

The total fiscal impact of the new compensation is $10,375, and Morelli was given five more vacation days, increasing his annual total to 25.

David Harry can be reached at 780-9092 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

South Portland City Manager Scott Morelli says his proposed $36.6 million city budget meets City Council spending guidelines and policy goals.

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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.