Portland City Manager Jon Jennings is scheduled to present a $206.6 million budget proposal to the City Council on Monday that would effectively cap the number of people the city serves at its homeless shelters, potentially ending a decadeslong commitment to take in anyone who asks for a place to sleep.

Jennings’ budget proposal also would begin phasing out a local program that provides financial assistance to asylum-seekers who are not eligible for state assistance.

The budget proposal would increase the municipal portion of the tax rate by 2.9 percent, as well as increase the price of city trash bags. But Jennings said his budget does not include funding for several council or mayoral initiatives, such as a local clean elections program, implementation of an earned paid sick leave ordinance or additional staffing in response to the city’s newly implemented pesticides ordinance.

Jennings said he was fiscally cautious in preparing the budget because the council never gave clear budget guidance and the city is beginning to see a leveling off of income from excise taxes and parking fees, potential warning signs of an economic slowdown or recession.

“I feel like we’re still making progress, but I am really concerned about the future,” Jennings said. “People complain about the unaffordability of the city, but the city is one of the drivers of the unaffordability. If we continue on an unsustainable path of large property tax increases, it’s going to make the city even more unaffordable.”

Jennings gave the Portland Press Herald a preview of his budget under the condition it would not be shared before Monday. Some portions of the budget, especially the notion of limited access to city shelters, are sure to draw criticism when the budget is made public.


Funding is included in Jennings’ budget for a property tax relief program for low-income seniors. But, in addition to increased taxes, the cost of city-issued trash bags would increase by 15 cents for each 15-gallon bag, which currently cost $1.35 each, and 30 cents for each 30-gallon bag, which currently cost $2.70 each. Those changes are driven by an increase in tipping fees for trash and a new recycling fee charged by ecomaine.

The budget will force a conversation about social services in the city, including a more than 30-year commitment to shelter anyone in need. That commitment was made by a former city manager in the 1980s in response to a tent city that sprang up outside City Hall. The protest led the city to open its Oxford Street shelter, and in recent years, the city has opened as many as three additional overflow spaces to accommodate demand. At the same time, Portland has tried and failed to persuade other Maine municipalities to help pay for the shelter, which serves people from throughout the state and region.

Jennings said his budget would limit the amount of overflow space used when the city’s family shelter on Chestnut Street and the adult shelter on Oxford Street get full. He said the city would continue to use one overflow location for each shelter. After that, people would be turned away.

The proposal is more likely to affect single adults, since the city uses the Salvation Army gym as overflow for the Family Shelter. The Oxford Street Shelter can accommodate 154 single adults and routinely overflows. Another 75 mats are set up two blocks away at Preble Street. And when that gets full, the city has opened up its General Assistance office, but that would no longer be an option under Jennings’ budget.

He has also proposed phasing out the Portland Community Support Fund, which was established in 2015 in response to help immigrants who had been deemed ineligible for state assistance because they had not yet formally filed an application for asylum. Such immigrants can qualify for state-funded General Assistance support once an asylum application is filed. Asylum seekers are not allowed to work for at least six months, and do not receive federal support available to refugees.

The current budget included $200,000 for the fund, but Jennings said the fund was $36,000 over budget through March and the city stopped accepting new applicants. In response to recent news articles about the increased flow of families into the city’s Family Shelter, the city has received $45,000 in private donations, which will be used to continue providing rental assistance to people currently enrolled in the program, he said.


Jennings said his budget proposal includes $150,000 to continue rental assistance to people currently enrolled in the program. And the city would work with other community groups to help meet other needs.

“How much more can the city do?” Jennings said. “I think it’s really important for the city to have this conversation. It’s ultimately the City Council that will decide. I think, in the context of this budget, it’s something that should be put on the table.”

Mayor Ethan Strimling said he hopes to restore full funding for the program.

“I look forward to working with my colleagues to find a way to restore this money to help meet the basic needs of rent, food, diapers and prescription drugs for our newest residents,” Strimling said. “While other communities in Maine are seeing demographic shifts that do not bode well for their future, this fund has helped Portland attract highly skilled young families.”

The budget includes $200,000 for a new property tax relief program for low-income seniors. It also devotes $200,000 in funding from the sale of city land to the city’s Housing Trust fund.

The budget assumes the city will receive an additional $380,000 in revenue sharing from the state.


Real estate development has added $85 million in value to the city. That has translated into $2 million in additional property tax revenue, which is split between the city and schools, according to Brendan O’Connell, the city’s finance director.

The proposed $206.6 million general fund municipal budget, which includes a 5.6 percent county tax increase, would be 4.6 percent higher than the current budget of $197.6 million. That translates into a 2.9 percent, or 33-cent, increase in the municipal side of the property tax rate, which would lead to a $79 property tax increase for a home with an assessed value of $240,000.

The proposed budget for Portland Public Schools would increase the school portion of the property tax rate by 5.4 percent, adding about 60 cents to the mil rate. That translates into an increase of $144 per year for a home assessed at $240,000.

Combined, the budget proposals would lead to a 4.1 increase in property taxes, a $223 increase to the annual tax bill of a home valued at $240,000.

The council is expected to refer Jennings’ budget to its Finance Committee for further review.

Correction: This story was updated at 2:40 p.m. Tuesday, April 9, 2019 to correct the increase in the annual tax bill of a home valued at $240,000.


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