PORTLAND – City councilors are holding forums starting this week to find out what’s on residents’ minds, but they already have a pretty good sense of the issues they’ll be tackling over the next year.

Those matters include a proposal to further loosen waterfront zoning rules, dealing with infrastructure matters such as sewers and, next spring, wrestling with a budget that will be complicated by the loss of federal economic stimulus funds and a likely cut in state revenue sharing and aid to schools.

With councilors saying they want to hold the line on taxes, that means cuts in programs are likely.

“People will start seeing what a smaller government looks like,” said Councilor David Marshall.

Last week’s election didn’t result in a wholesale change on the council. At-large councilors Jill Duson and John Anton were re-elected, and Ed Suslovic, who has served on the council before, is rejoining the nine-member group. Dan Skolnik, who had held the seat that Suslovic won and often clashed with fellow councilors, opted not to run for re-election and then ran as a write-in candidate in the at-large race but fell short.

Mayor Nick Mavodones said he expects some debate over rules that would allow more nonmarine businesses to set up shop on the waterfront.

Mavodones said the council will also have to deal with an agreement with environmental regulators to separate storm and sanitary sewers to prevent wastewater from running into the Fore River and Casco Bay.

But he said the issue likely to cause the biggest headaches is the budget.

The city, particularly schools, benefited from federal economic stimulus money that won’t be available this year, Mavodones noted. And the state is facing a $1 billion budget shortfall next year that will likely result in cuts to revenue sharing with towns and cities.

Marshall said the way the council works together might play into decisions on matters such as the budget. He noted that in recent years, there’s been what he called a “governing coalition” of the five Democrats on the council, even though the candidates don’t run under partisan banners.

But three of the Democrats on the council supported Will Mitchell, who ran against Suslovic for the District 3 council seat, so Marshall sees the council to come as made up of himself and two other Green Independents; four Democrats; Cheryl Leeman, a Republican; and Suslovic, whom Marshall terms “an independent Democrat” who might not be as willing to go along with those who backed his opponent.

Other councilors said that people shouldn’t make too much of party labels, since the council rarely splits votes along party lines.

But Portland’s cause in Augusta is likely to be affected by party labels, as the city’s solidly Democratic legislative delegation will go to the state capital to confront a Republican governor and a House and Senate controlled by the GOP.

“The challenge of advocating for our city will be even harder,” said Duson. City officials, she said, will need to make the case that the economic health of Portland is the key to the condition of the rest of the state and needs to be supported.

Mavodones noted that Portland has never had a huge amount of influence in the State House, regardless of which party has been in charge.

“Bills that are ‘Portland bills,’ it doesn’t matter if they’re Democratic or Republican, they start at a different place simply because they are ‘Portland bills,’ ” he said.

But, Mavodones said, Portland could have an unlikely ally in Gov.-elect Paul LePage, a Republican who has been mayor of Waterville since 2003.

“I would suspect he’ll understand those things” that are important to cities because of that background, Mavodones said, and might be willing to help where he can.

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

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