South Portland mayor sees need for 1% tax hike

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SOUTH PORTLAND — New Mayor Tom Blake set out a five-point agenda Monday while calling for a minimal tax increase in the combined fiscal year 2014 municipal budget.

Elected unanimously by city councilors to his second, one-year term as mayor, Blake called for a property tax increase “as close to 1 percent as possible,” while vowing to support a new facility for the city public works, parks and recreation and transportation departments.

The 1 percent objective includes municipal and school operations, Blake said.

Blake, who previously served as mayor in 2008-2009, said he will also begin the groundwork for an endowment fund to supplement public funding for city operations and maintenance, and called for forming a wider, more cohesive network of public transportation in the Portland area.

“I would like to see a South Portland citizen with a job in Windham be able to get to work faster and easier than they can now,” Blake said.

Blake spoke for about 10 minutes in the half-hour special Town Council meeting where new Councilors Melissa Linscott and Linda Cohen were sworn in for three-year terms and the former mayor, Councilor Patti Smith, relinquished her gavel.

Also on Blake’s agenda is replacing Erik Carson, the former assistant city manager and economic development director, who resigned in August.

“We need to fill these positions quickly with individual(s) who can wear numerous hats, who think all the time about community outreach and economic expansion,” he said.

City Manager James Gailey said the open jobs are being advertised.

Following Blake’s speech, a special School Board meeting was convened to swear in returning board members Richard Matthews, Tappan Fitzgerald Jr. and James Gilboy, and newcomer Mary House.

The board elected District 2 member Richard Carter chairman for the next year, with Fitzgerald as vice chairman. Carter has served nine years on the board and was chairman in 2010.

Carter spoke briefly after his appointment, noting strong community support for schools as seen in referendum votes for elementary and high school construction, while emphasizing the School Department must match the commitment by ensuring the schools fully educate students.

The next School Board meeting will be held at 7 p.m., Monday, Dec. 10, at City Hall.

At a second meeting held later Monday evening, councilors approved the first step to allow Mad Horse Theater to stage productions in the former Hutchins School on Mosher Street in Ferry Village.

By amending the lease on the city-owned building to add the phrase “place of assembly,” councilors gave their consent to the theater company using its current office and rehearsal space for shows.

The request, which came after the company lost its performance space in Portland, also requires Planning Board approval for an occupancy permit. The Planning Board will consider the request at 7 p.m., Dec. 11, in City Hall.

Councilors also gave final approval to ordinance revisions initially passed at the Nov. 19 meeting, including a change in Chapter 15 on Motor Vehicles and Traffic that reflects new procedures in issuing parking tickets.

City police will use digital devices to issue and record parking tickets, and now residents must pay outstanding parking fees before registering vehicles.

The requirement and ordinance change was opposed by Councilor Jerry Jalbert, who did not attend the Nov. 19 meeting. By withholding registrations, Jalbert said city officials could hurt residents who are already struggling economically.

“It is a little too much legislative muscle,” he said.

The city will, however, provide an amnesty period for residents with outstanding parking fines, which range from $20 to $100. Gailey will bring precise dates up for a council vote Dec. 17, but said he anticipates a period from just before Christmas through at least the end of January 2013 where truant parking fees could be paid without additional late fees.

Jalbert’s vote was the only one opposing the parking ordinances.

Councilors unanimously approved a second reading amending Chapter 21 on police operations to allow the denial of an annual business permit to business owners who have outstanding fees on false alarms from security systems.

The false alarms could be caused by malfunction or human error. Fines range from $35 for a second false alarm to $100 for each false alarm beyond a third one in a calendar year.

Councilors Tom Coward and Patti Smith said they support a city ordinance requiring sprinkler systems in new one- and two-family dwellings, but the provision was not part of 86 pages of revised fire safety codes unanimously approved by the council.

The revisions to Chapter 8 effectively replace a 46-year-old ordinance and update standards to 2009 revisions in the National Fire Protection Association codes.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Sidebar Elements

New South Portland City Councilors Melissa Linscott, left, and Linda Cohen take their oaths of office Monday during inauguration ceremonies at City Hall. Linscott replaced Councilor Rosemarie De Angelis in District 3; Cohen replaced Councilor Maxine Beecher in District 4.

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.