The Portland City Council has approved a plan for spending an additional $6.2 million in state school funding, allowing the city to eliminate what had been a nearly 1 percent property tax increase for the coming year.

The council unanimously approved the school spending plan Monday night despite feedback from state lawmakers who asked for more tax relief in light of recent property revaluations that have left some residents facing noticeable tax increases.

“If it’s possible, I would appreciate seeing more money going toward tax relief,” City Councilor Belinda Ray said to school officials prior to the votes. “But I understand it’s your call and certainly I am going to vote in favor of this tonight and you’ll make the final decisions.”

The plans call for spending the additional state funding approved by the Legislature and Gov. Janet Mills by allocating $1.49 million to offset what was close to a 1 percent combined city and school tax increase in the original $125.2 million school budget; $1.3 million to cover the cost of custodians who are currently being paid for with federal coronavirus relief dollars; and $3.41 million to establish a debt service relief fund to help offset the costs of renovations at four elementary schools approved by voters in 2017.

The plan was approved by the school board July 6. The council has the final say on the amount of money to be spent, though decisions on how the money is spent rest with the school board.

In a letter to the council last week, Rep. Michael Brennan, D-Portland, urged the city to put more of the funds toward reducing property taxes in light of a citywide property revaluation that has led to sharp tax increases for some residents.

“At the very least, a majority of the $6.2 million should be used to assist Portland taxpayers during a unique and exceedingly difficult time,” Brennan wrote.

The revaluation has brought the property tax rate down from $23.31 per $1,000 of assessed value to a projected rate of $13.49 because of an overall increase in the city’s property valuation. The final tax rate won’t be calculated until after the appeals process for the revaluation is through at the end of August, but Superintendent Xavier Botana told the council the additional $1.49 million for tax relief would take about 18 cents off the pre-revaluation tax rate.

Two additional lawmakers, Rep. Barb Wood, D-Portland, and Sen. Heather Sanborn, D-Portland, also sent emails to the council in support of Brennan’s comments.

“As a parent of a recent (Portland High School) grad, I certainly understand the backlog of maintenance projects at the schools and it too must be addressed, but in the present moment the crisis at hand for Portlanders is definitely property taxes,” Sanborn said.

School officials said their plan will help mitigate future tax increases even if it doesn’t grant as much immediate relief as lawmakers might want to see. The debt service reserve fund will help offset future increases, including a projected increase of over $2 million in debt service next year as the district undertakes the Buildings For Our Future renovation projects.

“All of that has to be paid before we make educational investments,” said Anna Trevorrow, who chairs the school board’s finance committee. “To us the way we allocated this funding was to put the district in a good financial place for a couple of years going forward. The bulk of it is tax relief, it’s just not right up front this year.”

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