BIDDEFORD — The City Council in Biddeford discussed — but did not implement — a stay-at-home order, and heard presentations on potential provisions for easing property tax due dates, easing some restrictions on paid parking, and next year’s budget at a special meeting on Thursday, March 26.

The session was the council’s first since it issued an emergency declaration on March 16, and was conducted entirely online. Councilors were speaking from their homes by video conference. The meeting was broadcast over cable television and live-streamed on the internet at www.biddefordmaine.org where it remains available for viewing. They’ll meet again, remotely, at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, March 31 to discuss  and act on some of the proposals.

As to a possible stay-at-home order, some councilors said they’d favor one; others, including Mayor Alan Casavant liked City Manager James Bennett’s suggestion that something of the sort might be more effective if done in concert with the city’s municipal neighbors.

“A stay-at-home message would be a strong message to our community,” said councilor William Emhiser. As well, given statistics that Emhiser said show 10 to 15 percent of cases of COVID-19 require hospitalization and 5 percent require intensive care, he is concerned the health care system would being overwhelmed if the area had 1,000 to 1,500 cases.

Bennett said he’d talked with municipal neighbors in York and Cumberland counties.

Biddeford City Council discussed the possibilities of a stay-at-home order and other issues relating to the COVID-19 pandemic at a special meeting March 26. Councilors are  shown here taking their oaths of office Dec. 3. Courtesy photo by Joe McKenney

“I really think we ought to make the recommendation together,” Bennett said, indicating he believed a stay-at-home order would be less effective if Saco, Arundel, and Old Orchard Beach didn’t make one.

Portland, South Portland, and some other communities have instituted stay-at-home orders.

Bennett said he was on a conference call with Gov. Janet Mills and others earlier in the week.

“In my opinion, I believe the majority of people would back the governor,” if she called for a stay-at-home order, Bennett said.

Councilor Norman Belanger said he supports a stay-at-home provision, and said he’s been doing so himself, but expressed concern about going beyond what Mills had instituted.

“Maine is a different place, all over, and York and Cumberland counties are experiencing community spread, (of COVID-19),” said Councilor Amy Clearwater, in part. Bennett was in a good position to get the other municipalities on board with such a provision, she said.

“I agree that it is important our neighbors are part of it,” said Casavant. He said he expected the city would “have to go down that road” at some point.

In other business, Bennett raised the issue of the upcoming budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

“Until two weeks ago, the world was much different, financially, and we understand the (economic) pressures this will have on people,” Bennett told the City Council. “Amending budgets are coming. It is clear revenue streams will change.”

Bennett recalled the Great Recession, and how municipalities operated at that time  in 2009 and 2010.

“We’re not spending anything other than what is necessary,” said Bennett, who told the council he would meet with Biddeford Superintendent of Schools Jeremy Ray on presenting a school and municipal spending plan. The budget should move the community forward in a way that doesn’t impact the taxpayers and doesn’t result in layoffs, he said, but added the city’s employees “will have to be more understanding and flexible.”

Among the provisions that City Council  is likely to address March 31  is a plan to extend the date in which interest and penalties are added to the second installments of property tax bills, from April 8 to June 8.

Bennett also told the council that the city has been relaxing some elements of Biddeford’s parking fees — such as not giving tickets if someone stays over a one-hour limit for a short time, and similar situations. He said he expects to ask the City Council on March 31 to enact a provision that would allow those who have paid for a monthly parking permit in city lots to park the following month at no charge.

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