The Portland City Council is still at loggerheads over whether to ask local taxpayers to approve a $64 million bond to renovate four elementary schools.

For the second consecutive meeting, a proposal to fund renovations to Lyseth, Longfellow, Presumpscot and Reiche elementary schools failed to generate enough support Monday evening to be put on the June ballot.

Seven members of the nine-person council, including Mayor Ethan Strimling, would have to vote in support to advance the measure. Instead of voting again on the proposal this week, the council voted unanimously to postpone action until April 5.

“I think the worst-case scenario is dragging this out,” Strimling said.

City Councilor Justin Costa said he hoped the council could come together and find a way to put the full bond on the ballot.

“I hope that we can shortly get to a place where we can resolve this impasse,” he said.

The postponement will make it difficult, if not impossible, for the bond to be placed on the June ballot. The deadline for the council to finalize the measure is April 5, and additional bond proposals would need to be read at two council meetings.

It’s unclear what could happen between now and April 5 to break the impasse. Strimling, who strongly supports the $64 million bond, said the council does not plan to meet to discuss the issue.

Emily Figdor, co-founder of Protect Our Neighborhood Schools, a group of parents who are pushing for the bond, said after the meeting that she was disappointed the council did not approve the measure. She accused three councilors of “continuing to obstruct” the will of the voters.

“We’re not giving up,” she said. “We’re going to do whatever it takes to get this done. It’s time to let the voters vote.”

Councilors Jill Duson, Belinda Ray and Nicholas Mavodones voted last week against the bond, because they want the district to apply for state funding for two schools that barely missed the cutoff in the last round of funding.

The bond will remain alive until councilors change their minds to either support it as proposed, amend the order to a smaller amount, or indefinitely postpone the item, which would effectively kill it.

The dissenting councilors have expressed support for putting the $64 million bond on the ballot as long as voters were also given a chance to weigh in on a separate $32 million bond proposal.

Putting another competing bond on the ballot, such as the so-called “2+2” proposal being co-sponsored by Duson and Mavodones, would require a separate agenda item that would need to be the subject of a public notice, which would take two to four weeks. So far, no notice has been issued.

The “2+2” plan would ask local taxpayers to borrow $32 million to renovate Lyseth and Presumpscot schools, while seeking state money for Reiche and Longfellow.

If only one, or neither, of those schools receives state funding, Duson and Mavodones said they would support another local bond to move the projects forward. They say their proposal will not affect the timeline for repairs at the schools, since the full bond proposal would borrow the $64 million over six years and all four schools cannot be renovated at once.

Supporters of the four-school bond are skeptical that the city will receive state funding, noting the two schools in question have been denied four times. They also question whether a future council would support another bond should state funding fall through. And they’re concerned about delays.

The council cannot use ranked-choice voting, or offer a multiple-choice question, for multiple bond proposals. Instead, it would have to vote to place each bond on the ballot with a clear statement about how the winner is determined.

Attorney James Saffian, who advises the city on bonding items, said in a March 8 email to city staff that the language should say that the bond would not be effective unless it receives a majority of votes and more affirmative votes than any other.

That language would need to be added to the $64 million proposal, as well as any other competing bond, he said.

The council will have to finalize the bond question or questions by April 5 to make the June ballot. Otherwise, the bond will have to wait for the November ballot, or a special election.

Borrowed in stages over the next six years, the $64 million bond would result in an additional $92 million in debt after interest. Property taxes are projected to increase by 3.1 percent over a 26-year period, adding an average of $104 a year to the tax bill on a $240,000 home, or $2,700 over the life of the bond.

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

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