City councilors decided Thursday to put off any discussion about adjusting the salary of Portland’s mayor for at least a year.

One councilor offered a suggestion that could result in a salary reduction for the mayor, and another suggested eliminating the mayor’s staff assistant from next year’s budget and using that money to fund another position.

The Finance Committee forwarded the combined $345 million school and city budget to the full City Council at Thursday’s meeting. The council will vote on the spending plan on May 15.

Mayor Ethan Strimling said Thursday that any salary adjustment should apply to the winner of the next mayoral election in 2019.

“My preference would be that this be looked at for the next mayor only,” said Strimling, who made $71,100 last year. “It takes the politics out of it.”

The discussion comes amid strong public opinion against increasing the salary of the full-time, popularly elected mayor – who has no executive authority over city operations – and giving him a $500 a month vehicle allowance.

In an interview with the Press Herald last Friday, Strimling said he asked councilors to review his pay last fall and asked for an update recently. He had not previously indicated his preference that any salary adjustment should not take effect until the next mayor takes office. Other councilors had interpreted it as a request for a raise for Strimling.

Strimling also came under fire during his weekly radio appearance on WGAN news radio. When pressed Tuesday by co-host Matthew Gagnon about how his salary review request might be perceived, Strimling said he would not object if the council decided to hold off on any adjustment until the next mayor takes office.

The charter calls on the council to adjust the mayor’s salary prior to nomination papers being made available to candidates, but the council made no adjustment in 2015. The council is also allowed to adjust the mayor’s salary during a mayor’s term.

Gina Tapp, Portland’s human resource director, said Thursday that the mayor’s special assistant, Jason Shedlock, will make $69,000 in the next budget cycle because he is on the same pay scale as other staff that work with the city manager.

“It is possible in the near future that with annual COLAs and annual increases, the special assistant’s salary will move above the salary of the mayor,” said Tapp. “I’m bringing it to (your) attention simply for your awareness.”

That prompted City Councilor Belinda Ray, who does not serve on the committee, to suggest that the mayoral assistant position be eliminated from next year’s budget. She noted that her constituents criticized the position when it was created last April.

The assistant was originally intended to help both the council and the mayor but that hasn’t worked out, Ray said.

“For me it places an additional layer between me and the information I seek to gather,” Ray said. “I have found the assistant duplicative and I do not support its inclusion in this budget.”

Ray recommended using the $69,000 to pay for a waterfront manager to oversee and help maintain the city’s waterfront properties, which are seeing a boost in development and cruise ship and concert activities.

Strimling argued against cutting the position, saying he’d rather increase the budget to pay for both positions, or not add some of the 17 new positions recommended by City Manager Jon Jennings.

“That position is instrumental in the success and the ability of the mayor’s office to carry out the duties that are in the charter,” he said.

City Councilor Jill Duson, who does not serve on the committee, said that any salary adjustment should bring the mayor’s pay more in line with the minimum established in the City Charter. That minimum is 150 percent of the area’s median income.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 American Community Survey, the median household income for Portland was $46,280 – 150 percent of that would be $69,420. The 2015 income information is the most recent available.

In 2016, Strimling made $71,100. For the fiscal year beginning July 1, Strimling will make $73,000, because the mayor also receives cost of living adjustments.

“I think it’s important we be consistent with the charter language,” Duson said. “I wonder if the COLA increases were appropriate.”

Prior to becoming mayor, Strimling earned more than $106,000 as executive director of Learning Works, a Portland nonprofit that helps at-risk children that had a $4.3 million budget in 2015.

Combined, the $345 million municipal and school budgets, which also include county taxes, would increase property taxes by about 2.6 percent, according to Jessica Grondin, the city’s communications director.

That would increase the city’s tax rate of $21.11 per $1,000 of assessed value by about 55 cents, adding an estimated $165 a year to the annual tax bill of a home with an assessed value of $300,000.

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

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Twitter: @randybillings