Thursday, December 5, 2013
By Randy Billings email@example.com
PORTLAND – The City Council unanimously approved a $215.2 million municipal budget Monday for the year starting July 1.
The spending plan, combined with the nearly $96.4 million school budget approved by voters in May, will result in a 3.1 percent increase in the property tax rate.
The projected rate of $19.41 per $1,000 valuation would add about $118 dollars to the annual tax bill of a home with an assessed value of $200,000.
"This has been an unusually difficult year, not necessarily what the city has done, but because of the challenges we're facing in Augusta," Mayor Michael Brennan said.
City and school officials struggled this year to put together their budgets after Gov. Paul LePage proposed eliminating sources of revenue, including a revenue-sharing program that returns a percentage of sales and property taxes to the municipality in which it was generated.
LePage's original proposal would have cost the city $6.1 million.
While the Legislature passed a bipartisan budget that reduced that cut to $1.9 million, lawmakers will have to retain enough support to override a veto, an action that the governor took Monday.
The city made up for the smaller shortfall through a combination of tax increases and $1.1 million in spending cuts, including the elimination of two vacant positions.
The fire department's $1.5 million overtime budget was also reduced by $100,000 and non-union pay increases were reduced from 1.5 percent, to 1 percent.
The city, however, decided to fully fund a $150,000 study to make High and State streets into two-way roads.
Portland resident Robert Haines suggested it was irresponsible for the council to pass a full year's budget without knowing the outcome of the state budget veto.
Instead, the council should pass a temporary, short-term budget, he said.
"If (LePage budget veto) is sustained, we're not going to get any money from the state from the at least for the foreseeable future," Haines said.
City Councilor and Finance Chairman John Anton said the council will have to take up the school budget again, since the Legislature's budget includes a shift of teacher retirement costs to the schools that Portland did not budget for.
The state budget also includes an increase in General Purpose Aid for education to offset the retirement costs, Anton said.
However, state law currently requires districts to hold another school budget referendum to increase its budget.
Brennan said after the meeting that the Legislature's education committee will take up a bill this week that could affect whether communities will have to put their school budgets back out to voters.
The city budget increases fees as well as taxes.
Most notably, restaurants will have to pay $115 to have an employee trained as a certified food protection manager, which is a state requirement. The city estimates it will pull in $34,500 a year, which will be used to train workers about safe food handling.
Rates to use the Wilde Memorial Chapel in Evergreen Cemetery will increase from $400 to $500 for residents and from $500 to $650 for nonresidents.
Also, residents who have been parking in the Thames Street lot for free will now be charged $10 a day.
Block party permits will increase from $5 to $25, and the age requirements to get senior rates at municipal recreation facilities will increase from age 55 to age 62 (existing users will be grandfathered).
The City Council also unanimously approved a $16.4 million capital improvement budget, which is financed through borrowing.
Justin Costa, the Portland Board of Public Education's finance chairman, and Brennan acknowledged the city finance committee's work on the budget.
Both Costa and Brennan singled out the efforts of Anton, who has led the city's finance committee for several years and was a driving force behind the shift toward multi-year budgeting.
Anton, who was elected to an at-large seat in 2007, has said he will not seek re-election when his term ends in December.
Brennan said he hoped Anton would reconsider his decision.
"If in fact you decide not to, I want express my heartfelt thanks on behalf of the council for the work you've contributed not only this year but on previous years' budgets," Brennan said to the applause of councilors and staff.
Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at: