SOUTH PORTLAND — City councilors on Monday concluded School Board members deserve an increase in their annual $1,000 stipend.
In a workshop that focused on a pair of issues that previously generated considerable debate, councilors also agreed that changing the flow of traffic through part of Knightville has proved to be a success.
The increased stipends will likely be on the Nov. 5 ballot as a proposed revision to the City Charter. But the referendum question will be drafted in a way to allow the School Board leeway to increase compensation to as much as $1,500.
The phrasing is needed because Superintendent of Schools Suzanne Godin told City Manager Jim Gailey the board does not want a stipend increase while positions and programs are cut and “would not advocate for a Charter change at this time.”
Councilors can add the referendum question to the ballot after a public hearing and council vote.
An increase in School Board stipends was the only recommendation to boost compensation made by a seven-member “blue ribbon” commission that examined pay and benefits for elected officials this spring.
The commission, comprised of Albert DiMillo Jr., David Canarie, Andy Charles, Richard Rottkov, Brian Dearborn, Carol Thorne and Natalie West, was formed after DiMillo sued the city in Cumberland County Superior Court to get rid of taxpayer-funded health insurance plans that have been available to councilors for about 35 years. Coverage will be available to councilors at their own expense after Nov. 30.
The City Charter calls for paying councilors a $3,000 stipend annually, while School Board members are paid $1,000. The stipend amounts took effect Jan. 1, 1987.
As councilors voted to eliminate taxpayer-funded insurance plans last year, DiMillo suggested increasing pay to as much as $5,500. The commission concluded no increase was needed for councilors, and no extra stipends should be paid to councilors or board members serving one-year terms as mayor or board chairman. Two commission members opposed the stipend increase for the School Board.
On Monday, Councilors Linda Cohen and Melissa Linscott supported the School Board stipend increase and Councilor Jerry Jalbert’s suggestion to phrase the question so the increase is optional.
“They work every bit as much as we do, though there is a huge gap in what we make,” Cohen said.
Jalbert and Councilor Al Livingston supported increased stipends for the leadership positions, but Mayor Tom Blake opposed asking voters because the commission did not recommend it.
Almost 11 months ago, as the Knightville and Mill Creek sections of the city were in the midst of reconstruction and infrastructure upgrades, councilors reconsidered their decision to eliminate angled parking on Ocean Street beyond its intersection with E Street.
It was an impassioned debate, with former Councilor Rosemarie De Angelis deriding her colleagues for reversing themselves and abandoning a plan to implement parallel parking.
“I can parallel park in New York City in an 18-wheeler,” De Angelis said before ending up on the short side of a 6-1 vote.
By October, the council approved making the Ocean Street block between E and D streets one-way northbound to accommodate angled parking, a narrower street, wider sidewalks – and the concerns of business owners worried they would lose customers if parking was spread further up the street and away from their shops.
On Monday, Gailey and councilors agreed the combination of a one-way street and angled parking has worked well.
“In a nutshell, there have not been any complaints,” Gailey said.
The changes resulting from work to add sewer and storm water lines, widen sidewalks and add new street lamps are an aesthetic success praised by councilors and the five members of the public who spoke up.
While work went on last summer, Smaha’s Legion Square Market owner Alan Cardinal was buying the store from Tom Smaha. On Monday, he said customers from the neighborhood and beyond had nothing but compliments about the changes.
“I’ve had nobody wonder why they didn’t do parallel parking,” Cardinal said.
Ocean Street resident Barbara Psichos said the changes have led to people parking too close to stop signs and impeding views from side streets, but Police Chief Ed Googins said posting warnings to park at least 30 feet from stop signs would not be difficult.
Before reaching a full conclusion, Gailey and his staff will review data from an ongoing traffic study on D Street. With at least one complaint about increased traffic moving at higher rates of speed, he said the Public Works Department has installed sensor pads to measure traffic volume and speed on the street.
Signs warn motorists driving south on Ocean Street in South Portland’s Knightville neighborhood that traffic between D and E streets is one way in the other direction. City officials say the change instituted last fall hasn’t generated any complaints.