PORTLAND – Opponents and backers of an elected mayor for Maine’s largest city held back-to-back news conferences today.

The opponents went first, saying electing a mayor and paying a salary of $60,000, plus benefits, and adding staffers is too costly at a time when Portland is making cuts elsewhere to keep spending and taxes down.

A proposal by a city charter commission to elect the mayor city-wide for a four-term term, using a “ranked voting” system, will be on the Portland ballot in November.

The mayor’s post is currently largely ceremonial, with the mayor acting as chairperson for city council meetings and representing the city at events. Currently, the mayor is a councilor who is elected by fellow councilors and generally serves just one year.

“Are people not looking around at the economy?” asked CIty Councilor Cheryl Leeman, one of the leaders of Citizens to Retain Responsible Goverment, saying it will likely cost $150,000 a year to establish an office of the mayor.

She also said the post will still be mostly ceremonial, despite the higher salary, and she blasted the “ranked voting” procedure estabilshed by the commission.

Under that system, voters will select first and second choices for mayor. After a first round of voting, if no candidate receives a majority, the second choices of those who voted for the last-place finisher are allocated to those candidates as if they were first-choice votes. If that still doesn’t yield a winner with a majority, the second-choice votes of low-finishing candidates are distributed until a majority winner is determined.

Leeman said the system will be confusing, require hand-counting ballots and eventually may force the city to buy new voting machines that can determine first and second choices, creating another cost associated with a popularly-elected mayor.

Jed Rathband, manager of the “Elect Our Mayor, Yes on 1” group, said opponents’ arguments are “flat-out wrong.”

Rathband said the salary of the elected mayor and staff can be shifted from money allocated to other administrative costs and noted that all councilors already receive some benefits.

He said a $60,000 salary is “very modest.”

Rathband also said that the mayor will have a mandate to create a more efficient city government and can veto the budget, which would require a vote of six of the nine councilors to override.

As for the voting system, Rathband said a crowded field of candidates would almost ensure that the winner fails to get a majority, requiring a run-off election that would cost the city more money to conduct.

Ranked voting, he said, would eventually result in a winner with a majority.