Members of a City Council subcommittee said Thursday that they want to protect funding for a school-based dental clinic and find alternative spending cuts to help close a projected shortfall in next year’s budget.

The Finance Committee directed city staff to present other options for closing the $10 million hole, much of it resulting from a $5.7 million cut in state reimbursements for Portland’s homeless shelter and General Assistance programs.

“If we have to choose between programs that go to homeless adults and child dental care, we’ve got to save the child dental care,” said City Councilor Jon Hinck, who serves on the committee.

The committee was also given more details about how the city plans to comply with the state’s audit of its homeless shelters.

Gov. Paul LePage said the state will no longer reimburse the city for the operational costs of its homeless shelters – upending a practice that has been in place for more than 30 years. Instead, the state will only reimburse the city up to $24 a night for every financially eligible person who stays at a city-run shelter.

LePage has also proposed eliminating General Assistance for immigrants seeking political asylum in the U.S., some of whose visas have expired.

Acting City Manager Sheila Hill-Christian has proposed eliminating 24 city positions and raising an additional $3.2 million in property tax revenue for the fiscal year starting July 1. Hill-Christian said she sought to preserve services that provide for basic human needs above all else. “In my mind, basic need is food and shelter,” she said.

The proposed budget includes 15 layoffs citywide, including three positions at the dental clinic at Portland High School, which serves students throughout the district. Four other clinic positions would have their hours cut.

Acting Public Health Director Toho Soma said the school’s dental clinic opened in January, but dental services have been provided to students for about 40 years through mobile clinics. The permanent clinic allowed the city to hire its first full-time dentist and provide all city schoolchildren with access to full dental care regardless of family income.

Last year, 1,900 students were served, he said. By reducing staff and hours, the clinic will serve fewer children and, as a result, lose revenue it receives through MaineCare reimbursements for eligible children. Last year, the city received $200,000 in reimbursements, Soma said.

In addition to losing a dental hygienist, the cuts would eliminate two multilingual staffers – a community health promotion specialist who speaks Somali and a dental assistant who speaks Arabic.

“We’re cutting a small amount, but perhaps we’re losing a great deal more,” said Councilor Nicholas Mavodones, who chairs the committee.


The cuts to the dental clinic top $130,000. Councilors directed staff to consider other budget reductions to keep the clinic fully staffed, even if it means layoffs in other departments.

Other public health division cuts include a health inspector, an additional community health specialist and a program manager. Six other positions would have hours reduced.

The city has also agreed to institute changes at its homeless shelters after a state audit revealed that several people who stayed the longest – typically those with severe mental illness – had financial assets that made them ineligible for General Assistance.

Beginning in May, a financial eligibility specialist will begin screening the longterm clients at Oxford Street and the Family Shelter with the goal of screening everyone by July, said Dawn Stiles, director of the city’s Health and Human Services Department.

Because of high demand for emergency shelter beds, much of it driven by out-of-town users, the city has been paying for an overflow shelter at the Preble Street Resource Center. When the overflow is full, people are sent to a warming center at the city’s General Assistance office, where they can sit in chairs and wait for a mat to open up.

Stiles said the city will close the overflow shelter on June 1, which will save $128,000 in rent and three staff positions to be eliminated. The warming center will remain open.

Stiles said staff will work more closely with people who have some financial assets. The shelter typically sees an increase in demand at the end of the month when disability payments run out, she said. Staffers hope they can work with these people to find permanent housing, which would reduce demand at the shelter.

The budget would also eliminate two financial eligibility specialists, because there would be fewer people seeking assistance if asylum seekers are eliminated from the program.

Finance Director Brendan O’Connell said that if the General Assistance and shelter costs are covered through tax revenue, the tax rate increase would be about 6.5 percent, rather than 2.9 percent.

A 6.5 percent tax increase would add $260 to the annual tax bill of a home with an assessed value of $200,000. The proposed 2.9 percent increase would add $118 to the same tax bill.

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @randybillings