PORTLAND – The City Council’s Finance Committee voted unanimously Friday to recommend a municipal budget that would contribute to a 1 percent tax increase and keep the Riverton Branch library open for at least one more year.

The committee also voted 2-1 to recommend an increase in the price of the city’s blue pay-as-you-throw trash bags, from 75 cents to $1 for small bags and from $1.50 to $2 for large bags. The fee increase closed a $350,000 shortfall in the $196.2 million budget for municipal services.

City Councilor John Anton opposed the price increase, arguing that renters and lower-income residents would pay more to dispose of their trash while commercial property owners, large apartment owners and owners of expensive homes would enjoy a tax savings.

“It’s fairer to raise the money with a property tax than with a blue-bag fee,” Anton said.

But Councilor Jill Duson, who chairs the committee, said residents can reduce the amount of trash they throw away by recycling more.

“If it’s in my tax rate, I pay for it no matter what,” she said. “If it’s in my bag fee, I can be more attentive to that and put out fewer bags.”

Councilor John Coyne, the committee’s other member, also supported the blue-bag price increase.

The recommended budget, subject to approval by the City Council, would close branch libraries in the East End and Reiche Community schools.

The committee recommends putting $90,000 back in the budget to keep the Riverton Branch library open for another year. Members said they want the branch to remain open while Portland Public Library officials develop a new portable library system.

The committee recommends filling a $313,500 budget shortfall by using part of the proceeds from sales of two city-owned properties. Portland anticipates $900,000 from the sale of a parcel on Riverside Street and $240,000 from the sale of the Adams School building on Munjoy Hill.

The rest of the sales’ proceeds would be designated to help fund the city’s long-range plan to move its public works facilities from the Bayside neighborhood to a city-owned industrial park on Riverside Street

The recommended budget would reduce police staffing on Peaks Island so there would be only one officer on the island at a time, instead of two. There would be a second officer on the island on summer weekends. Also, one of the four firefighters assigned to the city’s fireboat would be stationed on the island at all times

The budget includes no funding for Fourth of July fireworks; the $45,000 cost will be paid by corporate donors. It also would eliminate a popular parking ticket forgiveness program.

In all, the recommended budget would eliminate 39 positions, 25 of which are filled. The reductions would affect most departments, with the cuts proportional to each department’s size.

The Finance Committee supported City Manager Joe Gray’s plan to use money from a revolving commercial loan fund administered by the Downtown Portland Corp. to restore two jobs that would have been cut — a business development position and the cultural affairs director.

Gray originally planned to make the cultural affairs position, now filled by Rachel Talbot Ross, a half-time job. But the additional money from the Downtown Portland Corp. will allow the position to remain full time.

If the plan is approved by the council, Ross will spend half of her workweek helping minorities and immigrants access economic development tools provided by the city, such as commercial loans and business consulting.

The committee recommended eliminating the position of an outreach nurse who helps seniors remain in their homes. However, the city hopes to win a grant from the United Way to keep the position filled.

The City Council will hold a public hearing on the budget on Monday. It will vote on the budget on May 18.

Combined, Portland’s municipal and school budgets and Cumberland County taxes would add 18 cents — 1 percent — to Portland’s property tax rate for the year that starts July 1, raising it to $17.92 per $1,000 valuation. That would add $36 to the tax bill for the owner of a $200,000 home.

Because the Legislature last year lowered the homestead tax exemption from $13,000 to $10,000, the 9,000 homeowners in Portland who participate in the program will see their taxes go up additional $40.

The means the owner of a $200,000 home who is in the program would see a tax increase of nearly $76.

All Maine residents who live in their houses are eligible for the homestead tax exemption.

Homeowners are eligible for the program if the are Maine residents who live in their home.

The program change increased Portland’s property tax base by $21 million and will let the city raise $379,000 in additional property tax revenue without increasing its tax rate.

 

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

tbell@pressherald.com