PORTLAND – When Pat Finnigan says “municipal government is in my blood,” don’t dismiss it as hyperbole.

Finnigan, who will take over next week as Portland’s interim city manager after Joe Gray retires Friday, says she started attending city council meetings in her native Bangor when she was a high school student. A teacher who noticed her interest helped secure her an appointment on a city advisory committee.

“That was my first taste of city government, and it’s been with me ever since,” she said.

After graduating from the University of Maine, she ran for the council herself, topping a field of 11 candidates for three at-large seats.

“I went door-to-door,” Finnigan said of that campaign. “I worked really hard and I think people thought, ‘She’s a kid, let’s give her a chance.’“

She went on to become a television reporter, worked for the Maine Municipal Association, was city manager of Auburn for 13 years and deputy city manager in Portland for the last three.

Finnigan, 58, said she’ll decide on whether to apply for the job permanently after getting a sense of the qualities the council will be seeking in its next city manager.

Gray said he’s leaving the city in good hands, especially given that Finnigan has experience as a city manager. That was one of the reasons he hired her, he said.

“She had managed a complex city, and that made me comfortable,” he said.

Finnigan said much of her tenure as interim manager — which is expected to last until a new manager is chosen in July or August — will be dominated by crafting a budget in a time when state aid is expected to be sharply cut. The city’s budget is $286 million for 2010-11.

In Portland, the council usually gets the manager’s draft of a budget in early April. It’s developed by the staff, starting in late February, and usually causes a lot of long days in City Hall in March.

After several years of the city trying to hold the line on taxes while avoiding sharp cuts in services, Finnigan said something may have to give, possibly this year.

“I don’t think that we can continue to do that and still have the quality of life we have in Portland,” she said, even though times remain tough for most people.

“There’s a disconnect (with what people are experiencing) when you hear that we’re out of the recession,” she said.

Being city manager in Auburn during the recession of the early 1990s has prepared Finnigan for this moment, she said.

“(I) know what tough budgets are like,” she said.

Finnigan would like to see the public start talking about what services they really want to retain and which ones could be jettisoned or cut back. Getting the council to significantly raise taxes to keep all its services intact is unlikely, she said.

Beyond the budget, Finnigan said she wants to focus on economic development.

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

[email protected]