PORTLAND – As the City Council’s Finance Committee struggles to find agreement on a proposed city budget, relatively modest cuts scheduled for the city manager’s office remain among the biggest unresolved issues.

City Manager Joe Gray has proposed eliminating the position of business development representative. He also wants to turn the full-time job of director of equal opportunity & multicultural affairs into a half-time position.

The cuts would save $82,000 in a municipal budget of $196 million.

Both jobs received considerable public support at a Finance Committee public hearing Tuesday where members also voted unanimously to recommend the School Committee’s proposed $89.9 million budget to the full City Council. The proposal would increase the school system’s portion of the property-tax rate by a little over 1 percent.

Several representatives of the city’s immigrant community spoke passionately about keeping a full-time multicultural affairs position. They said Rachel Talbot Ross, who has held the job for several years, provides a link between city government and immigrants and helps them deal with government bureaucracy. The job pays $59,700 a year.

Ross held the job in 2003 when the City Council voted to restore the position after a proposal to eliminate it.

Immigrants often need someone to guide them through the governmental process, such as what steps to take when a relative dies, said Josephine Okot, a youth educator for the Sudanese Women of Maine. She said the immigrant community is struggling with a lot of problems, particularly violence.

“We need city help,” she said.

The Rev. Virginia Rincon of Immanuel Baptist Church said the multicultural affairs position is a “vital link” with the city’s Latino community. “To cut this program in half is alarming,” she said.

Meanwhile, business community representatives spoke in support of the business development position. They said Nelle Hanig, who holds the job, brings investment and grant money to the city.

If the job is eliminated, the city’s Economic Development Division will consist of a director, Greg Mitchell, and an administrative assistant. Six years ago there were four professionals in that office, said Janis Beitzer, executive director of Portland’s Downtown District.

Developer Greg Shinberg said Hanig helped find grant money to support the financing of a four-story office building at 63 Marginal Way, and also was instrumental in winning grant support for a new program that aims to reduce loitering on Congress Street.

“This position more than pays for itself,” he said.

City Councilor David Marshall said Hanig’s position could be funded by accessing federal money in a city account reserved for economic development.

At a Finance Committee meeting last week, Councilor John Anton said Gray has proposed cutting the wrong job. If one position was to be eliminated in the city manager’s office, Anton said, it should be the communications director, a $62,000-a-year job now held by Nicole Clegg.

Anton said economic development and cultural affairs are more important to city residents than public relations.

Marshall said Tuesday that other councilors are discussing the issue, and that perhaps the communications job could be made a half-time post in order to save one of the other targeted positions.

Gray said in an interview that the communications position is a much bigger job than just helping his office deal with the media. The director plays a critical role during emergencies such as the January ammonia leak at Americold Logistics on Read Street, he said.

Clegg also uses the city’s website, Facebook page and Twitter account to keep the public informed of what’s going on in the city, he said.

“The job is really working as the communications and public information position for the entire city,” he said.

Mayor Nicholas Mavodones Jr. said he believes there is support on the council for retaining the communications position.

On Friday at 11 a.m., the Finance Committee will meet to discuss the non-school budget, and it is scheduled to vote on a recommendation to the full council.

The council is scheduled to have a first reading of the municipal budget on Monday and a final vote on May 17.

 

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at: [email protected]