Members of the Portland City Council favor having a discussion about whether the city should set hiring and wage conditions on construction projects involving municipal funds or tax subsidies, but don’t want to impose requirements on a project that already has been negotiated.

Some councilors who spoke at Wednesday night’s City Council meeting said they didn’t want to derail a pending $375,000 tax increment financing agreement for biotech firm ImmuCell Corp.’s planned $17.5 million expansion because it already has been negotiated with city staff and recommended unanimously by a council committee. The agreement would give ImmuCell a partial refund on property taxes from its new facility for 12 years.

The item was on the agenda for a vote, but the council raised questions about amendments to the TIF agreement proposed by Mayor Ethan Strimling and Councilor Jon Hinck. The council voted unanimously to postpone the vote until Sept. 19.

Because of the postponement, the council opted not to engage in a full debate over the merits of ImmuCell’s tax break deal or the amendments proposed by Strimling and Hinck. Some councilors said they needed more information before they could make a decision.

Under Strimling’s proposed amendments, ImmuCell’s general contractor for the new production facility would be required to certify that 25 percent of all work hours on the project would be done by Portland residents. Another 25 percent of work hours would need to be completed by minority, women, disabled, LGBT, economically disadvantaged, active military or veteran workers.

All workers on the project would have to be paid wages and benefits that meet or exceed the Maine Department of Labor’s “prevailing wage” rates for their professions. In addition, ImmuCell’s general contractor would need to have participated for at least the past three years in a state- or federally approved apprenticeship program for all relevant trades.

A fourth condition, proposed by Hinck, would require that the project meet or exceed Portland’s environmental standards for energy-efficient “green” building construction. Some councilors said they believe Portland’s TIF policy already requires green building standards.

Most councilors who spoke at the meeting said the council should discuss hiring and wage requirements as a policy issue for all future construction projects involving municipal funds or subsidies. But some said ImmuCell’s tax break deal is not the proper springboard for that discussion.

“This late in the game, it’s not something I’d be willing to support,” said Councilor Spencer Thibodeau. “I think we should talk about that outside the context of a specific TIF that is before the council.”

During a public hearing before the postponement, several union leaders spoke in favor of Strimling’s amendments, as did a leader of the Somali community. Others questioned whether certain proposed conditions such as the apprenticeship program would have a chilling effect on competition. They asked for more information about the issue before the Sept. 19 meeting.

“We should have an idea of how many firms can actually qualify under these conditions,” Councilor Justin Costa said.

Strimling abstained from making comments on the amendment because he had made it.

J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: jcraiganderson

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