Tax aid, sidewalk cafes likely to grow in South Portland

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SOUTH PORTLAND — City councilors are likely adding $15,000 to the city tax assistance program after a spike in applications this year, as indicated by majority support at their workshop on Monday.

The council is also looking to create a new licensing system for businesses wishing to add outdoor seating on city sidewalks. 

City Manager Jim Gailey said the city received a record number of applications for the city Property Tax Fairness Credit, which replaced the city Circuit Breaker program this tax season after the Legislature added stricter qualifications for the refund last year. 

The 130 applicants qualified for more than $47,400 in city assistance, but the city only budgeted $32,700 for the program, which would account for 62 percent of each applicant’s need.

Gailey said in past years there have been more applicants, but this year more applicants than ever qualified for the maximum amount of assistance, $400. 

Gailey suggested the council consider transferring $15,000 from the contingency abatement reserve, which would cover 92 percent of need. Discussion indicated councilors have few objections. 

“I wish we could help people more, but, keeping in mind that this is other taxpayers’ dollars we’re spending, we’ve got to have some kind of a limit at some point,” Councilor Linda Cohen said. “Going into next year’s budget we’re going to have to figure out what that will be.”

Because the discussion took place in a workshop, there was no official action taken Monday. The council will take a vote on transferring the funds from the contingency abatement reserve in their meeting Wednesday, April 23. 

Sidewalk seats

After entering into a trial license agreement to allow Cia Cafe on Ocean Street in Knightville to have sidewalk table seating last May, the council on Monday discussed an ordinance that would authorize sidewalk use by other businesses.

“It was successful, we had a lot of business,” Bill Dunnigan, owner of Cia, told councilors, while suggesting tweaks to umbrella and time restrictions he hoped the council might add to a new ordinance.  

The ordinance would allow activity only on sidewalks that are a minimums of 8 feet wide. Gailey noted that would exclude most areas of the city, other than Knightville and some parts of Willard Square, and eventually Main Street, where a proposed redesign includes wider sidewalks.

The ordinance, which would require businesses to apply for sidewalk seating licenses, would likely allow the activity from 7 a.m.-9 p.m. from March to November. 

The council will take up the proposed ordinance in a future meeting. 

“It’s nothing pressing, we’re were just trying to get out ahead of it,” Gailey said. “Come late May we’re going to have some businesses who are interested in pursuing this.”

Shelby Carignan can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow her on Twitter: @shelbycarignan.