Bleak. If there’s a word to describe Portland’s outlook for its city budget in the coming year, that one would do.

But that doesn’t mean City Manager Joe Gray is ruling out “grim,” “difficult,” “gloomy,” “dismal” or “desolate,” either. He said Friday that a pending $8 million shortfall in revenues would mean that the city, which had been trimming services to meet the drop, would have to begin cutting entire programs as well.

Like most Maine communities, Portland is enduring a series of cutbacks in local revenues due to the recession — which is why he’s not asking for tax hikes — but also is getting less money from the state to support education, welfare and other areas where Augusta helps meet local needs.

Gray, who noted this was the third year in a row for a decline in revenues, said that the economies of past years wouldn’t keep the city in the black any longer. Whereas city unions that accepted wage freezes didn’t lose any jobs (firefighters took a raise but lost positions), now unions were going to have to prepare for layoffs and other cuts. They included more cost-of-living freezes and bearing a share of insurance premiums for employees whose dependent care had been covered.

Gray’s concerns, which were communicated to city workers in an e-mail, also cited increases in overhead costs that would require cutbacks on the city’s part.

In addition, the recession has caused an increase in the demand for social services that has added $1.7 million to the budget, while general assistance and revenue sharing have been cut by $1.4 million each.

So, Gray is seeking budgets from departments that are trimmed from 3 percent to 12 percent, with emergency services getting a funding priority compared to other areas.

Those are tough decisions, but these are tough times.


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