South Portland manager slices budget request

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Given a City Council guideline to keep a property tax increase at about a third of what he anticipated, City Manager Jim Gailey presented a draft municipal budget Monday night that carves about $420,000 from the $496,000 in additional spending he previously proposed.

His fiscal year 2014 spending proposal includes more than $28.8 million for municipal operations and would require an increase of almost $214,000, to $17.47 million in property tax revenues.

Municipal operations would comprise $5.16 of an anticipated property tax rate of $17 per $1,000 of assessed value.

Gailey presented the budget draft with little comment beyond outlining the process leading to a council vote in April on the school budget.

The budget was accompanied by a 20-page memo detailing cuts Gailey made to reach the goal of a 0.6 percent property tax increase during a Feb. 28 joint workshop with School Board members.

Gailey proposed using $400,000 in current undesignated fund balances, while eliminating a combined $40,000 of city contributions to the Visiting Nurses Association and Home Health Visiting Nurses. Also proposed is dropping out of the Greater Portland Council of Governments to save $25,000 a year.

The $496,000 increase Gailey first outlined in January stemmed primarily from contractual pay raises and about $255,000 in additional health insurance premium costs. It did not consider individual department budget allocations or the potential impact of the proposed state revenue reductions in the biennial budget proposed by Gov. Paul LePage.

LePage’s budget and countering proposals are under discussion by the Legislature. The governor has proposed suspending revenue sharing of state incomes and sales taxes, which could cost the city $1.8 million, and shifting some excise taxes on commercial tractor trailers to the state. Gailey estimated that change could reduce revenues by $424,000.

Gailey’s budget draft outlines a $74.6 million general fund budget for city, school and county expenses, up from the current $72 million. On March 11, School Superintendent Suzanne Godin presented a “needs-based” fiscal year 2014 budget seeking more than $43.2 million, funded by $37.5 million in property tax revenues.

Her alternative budget to meet the council’s 0.6 percent guideline cuts about $329,000 by eliminating the ice hockey program and several teaching positions, including an English instructor in the gifted and talented program.

Gailey’s fiscal year capital improvements budget will be discussed at a 6:30 p.m. workshop Monday, March 25, at the Community Center. A council budget workshop with department heads will be held at City Hall at 5 p.m. Wednesday, March 27. A public hearing on the city and school budgets will be held April 3 at 7 p.m.

The school budget goes to referendum on May 14. A council vote on the municipal budget has not been scheduled.

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.