The Portland City Council voted unanimously Monday to pass a $360 million budget that would preserve the Fourth of July fireworks and increase business licensing fees.

A $35,000 line item for the fireworks once proposed for elimination by Mayor Ethan Strimling was ultimately preserved as part of the nearly $250 million municipal budget approved by the council.

Councilors also approved a $110.6 million school budget, which will be sent to voters on June 12 for a citywide referendum.

The combined city and school budgets are expected to increase property taxes by 3.8 percent, from $21.65 per $1,000 of assessed value to $22.48. That would add about $196.80 to the annual tax bill of a home assessed at $240,000.

Although Portland’s economy is booming, City Councilor Nicholas Mavodones Jr. said it was a difficult budget year, mostly because of the Maine Legislature’s failure to adequately fund public education.

As Portland’s land value has increased, state funding for education was $3.4 million lower than anticipated, while county taxes increased. The school department’s $110.6 million budget is $5 million, or 4.6 percent, more than its current budget and would result in a 5 percent increase in the schools’ portion of the tax rate.


“The city manager brought in a budget that made a lot of hard choices upfront,” Mavodones said, noting that the council had to request similar choices from the schools. “Our tax increase is really due to the reductions to the general purpose aid for education to the city of Portland.”

The city side of the budget is $7 million, or 3.2 percent, larger than the current budget, resulting in a 2.7 percent increase on its portion of the tax rate.

The council made only minor changes to the budget recommended by the council’s Finance Committee. It added more than $60,000 to begin implementing the city’s pesticide ordinance, allowing the city to hire part-time staff and purchase equipment and supplies. It also added $38,000 to cover an increase in membership fees to the Greater Portland Council of Governments.

To offset those additions, the council voted to increase business licensing fees by 5 percent, which is projected to generate an additional $60,000. The remaining budget increase was not large enough to affect the mil rate, officials said.

And the council also referred proposals to look at potential increases to building permit and short-term rental registration fees. Some of those fee increases could be tied to boosting staffing in the city’s Office of Economic Opportunity and other workforce development initiatives.

Much of the tension during this year’s budget involved the school budget. The school district is projected to receive less money from the state, prompting Strimling and school advocates to argue for a larger budget increase than the council would allow.


Portland Superintendent Xavier Botana originally proposed a $113.4 million budget, which would have required a nearly 10 percent increase in the schools’ portion of the taxes. The school board reduced that request to about $112 million, but the council ordered additional cuts of $1.2 million.

Strimling endorsed Botana’s budget, clashing with councilors in his first year serving on the Finance Committee. The mayor proposed delaying or cutting $500,000 from the city’s budget to prevent additional cuts of $1.2 million to the school budget. One of the proposed cuts was a $35,000 line item for Fourth of July fireworks.

Fireworks were cut from the budget eight years ago. Since then, private businesses have funded the popular event, which draws about 50,000 people to the Eastern Promenade. However, the Press Herald discovered that over the last few years the city has been fronting money for the event, which has lost money during the past three years, meaning taxpayers likely foot the bill for the more than $100,000 deficit.

July 4th Portland, the nonprofit formed to privately fund the celebration, announced in April that it would not be able to afford the $30,000 needed to hire the Portland Symphony Orchestra. And eliminating the line item as Strimling suggested would have canceled the celebration altogether.

Strimling also proposed fee increases targeting local businesses and landlords to generate an additional $1.2 million in revenue.

Those fee increases, which the three-member Finance Committee voted down along with the cuts, included a 43 percent increase in rental registration fees and an increase in building permit fees from 1.5 percent to 1.75 percent of project costs, which were projected to raise $250,000 and $500,000, respectively. The mayor also proposed an additional $250,000 in increases in short-term rental fees.


The city manager’s budget included a net decrease of 13 positions, including one layoff – the senior adviser to the city manager. That position, along with the deputy city manager position, is being reclassified to an assistant city manager to position.

Parking meter rates increased by 25 cents an hour. At city-owned garages at Elm and Spring streets, the hourly rate will rise $1, to $3 an hour, and the monthly rate will increase $10 to $130 a month. The city also is anticipating an $850,000 increase in excise tax revenue and $500,000 in cruise-ship revenue.

Nearly 20 positions were eliminated at the city-run Barron Center, while four positions were added along the waterfront.

Budget challenges on the city’s side include an overall increase in the value of the city land, which leads to less state revenue and higher county taxes, and an increase in debt service associated with the city’s pension obligation bond, which increased by over $870,000 this year. The city is also operating its emergency shelter 24 hours a day.

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

Twitter: randybillings

CORRECTION: This story was updated at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, May 22, 2018 to correct a percentage increase in building permit fees.

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