PORTLAND – Both candidates for the Portland City Council seat representing District 3 acknowledge that economic circumstances largely beyond their control will dictate much of what they are able to do in the next few years.

With the economy still struggling, unemployment likely to remain high for some time and a huge shortfall awaiting the state Legislature and next governor, Will Mitchell and Ed Suslovic agree that city service cuts are much more likely than expansions.

“We’ve got to be very strategic as a city as far as how we respond to this at-least three-year fiscal challenge,” said Suslovic, a former at-large councilor who is running for the three-year term representing the Stroudwater, Libbytown, Oakdale and Rosemont neighborhoods.

“It’s going to be a difficult balancing act,” said Mitchell, who’s running for office for the first time, “but I don’t think we should be raising property taxes any higher. I think they’re already a burden.”

Councilor Dan Skolnik decided not to run for re-election in District 3. He subsequently began a write-in campaign for one of the two at-large seats that are open in Tuesday’s election.

Suslovic said the city must prepare for the likelihood of less state revenue sharing and school aid next year, and needs to consider virtually every service or program for elimination, cuts or suspension. The only exceptions, he said, should be schools and law enforcement.

Suslovic said other cities have found that when funding for schools and police are cut, the middle class deserts the city for the suburbs.

“It doesn’t matter what other services you have, if you lose the confidence in the schools and lose that sense of security, you’ve lost that city,” he said.

Portland must be more entrepreneurial and businesslike, he said, ensuring that widely used programs are supported and making difficult but necessary decisions to cut those that are less popular.

For instance, Suslovic said, popular recreation programs could continue with higher fees, while less popular programs could be dropped.

Like Mitchell, Suslovic said he doesn’t think now is the time to raise taxes, no matter how tight the budget gets.

“I’ve talked to far too many households that are struggling to make ends meet” because of job losses or pay freezes or cuts, he said.

Both Mitchell and Suslovic said the council must continue looking for ways to combine services with neighboring towns and cities as a way to cut costs without eliminating programs.

Mitchell, who has been endorsed by six of the nine current councilors, said he would like to see the council work more closely with the School Committee, state legislators and even Maine’s congressional delegation to maintain funding and support for the city.

As the son of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Libby Mitchell, he joked that constituents shouldn’t expect any extra pull in the Blaine House if his mother wins.

Mitchell said that as the owner of a small consulting business, he hopes to be a voice for the city’s small businesses on the council, and would like to see Portland capitalize on its niches, from the restaurant industry to historic attractions. He said the city’s quality of life can be a lure for “location-independent” companies.

Mitchell also said the city could do a better job of providing residents with a window into city government, through an improved website and more of an emphasis on transparency.

Even though times are tough, Mitchell said, the city must keep preparing for the economy to pick up. He wants Portland to back efforts to improve rail links with Boston and midcoast Maine and continue to support expansion of the Portland International Jetport, which he says can be an important economic development tool.

 

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

[email protected]