Portland city councilors will host an online community forum Monday to solicit input on how to spend some of the $46 million in federal funding meant to help the city recover from the pandemic.

Mayor Kate Snyder said Monday’s forum is important as councilors finalize a list of priorities for the first round of funding. The council is planning to vote Nov. 1 on its plan for spending about $14 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding – the remaining portion of the first installment of the federal funding, which comes in two rounds.

“This is a really significant opportunity to hear from folks,” Snyder said. “This is one step in a pretty hardy process that has been built so the council can make some decisions on Nov. 1.”

Portland is one of five entitlement communities in Maine to receive a direct allocation under the American Rescue Plan Act, which is intended to replace lost revenues and cover other costs associated with responding to the pandemic. The state and counties also are receiving funds.

Portland expects to receive $46.3 million – a sum equivalent to 17 percent of the city’s annual budget of $268 million and nearly 22 percent of its tax-supported, general fund spending of $212 million.

The city already has received $23.1 million and expects to receive a similar amount no sooner than next May. Councilors have approved using $8.5 million to offset revenue losses in the current budget, leaving about $14 million of the first tranche unspent.

The city manager and finance director have proposed using as much as $9 million in the next two city budgets, should municipal revenue not fully recover by then.

If the city goes that route, it would have roughly $30 million to spend on other projects. The funding must be obligated by the end of 2024 and must be spent by the end of 2026.

A City Hall spokesperson said city staff members also are drafting a set of recommendations that will be presented to the council at a future meeting.

The city has been collecting community input through an online survey since July 27. That survey is scheduled to close on Sept. 17.

Spokesperson Jessica Grondin said Friday morning that nearly 2,000 people had begun filling out the online survey and nearly 1,300 people have completed it. Grondin said it was a “very high response rate,” though some people may have filled out the survey more than once.

Snyder said that the input she has seen so far runs the gamut, so she was not prepared to identify any issues that were rising to the top of the list.

“The input has been so broad and it will continue to broaden,” she said. “I would be reluctant to say these two or three topics are bubbling to the top. I don’t want to jump to conclusions.”

The city’s survey offers suggestions, while also allowing people to submit their own ideas. Some of the options include: Replacing lost municipal revenue, public health, community recreation facilities, homeless services, affordable housing services, child care assistance, small-business assistance and road/streetscape improvements.

The survey then asks people to rank their preferences in order of importance and allows people to offer other ideas and sign up for notifications related to the rescue plan or any city projects.

Preliminary community survey results released Friday indicate that funding affordable housing and homeless services were among the top priorities, garnering 12.7 percent and 12.6 percent, respectively. That’s followed by public health (10.6 percent) and child care (9.3 percent.) Other top keywords and themes include public restrooms/water fountains, climate change, improving roads/sidewalks, bike infrastructure, transportation, trashcans and capital projects.

The funding can only be used for certain things and federal guidelines discourage using the funding to create new programs since the money does not renew.

Eligible uses include responding to the COVID-19 pandemic or its negative economic impacts, including assistance to households, small businesses and nonprofits; and aid to affected industries such as tourism, travel and hospitality. It also can be used for premium pay for work performed by state, local or tribal government workers during the public health emergency; replacing government revenue lost because of the pandemic, and to make necessary investments in water, sewer or broadband infrastructure.

Portland Downtown, a nonprofit group that advocates for downtown property owners, has launched a campaign to build support for using up to $1 million to install eight to 10 public restrooms in the city.

The lack of public restrooms has been a source of frustration for visitors and for people experiencing homelessness. Portland has only a few options for public restrooms, including one at the Spring Street Parking Garage, another at the Casco Bay Ferry terminal, and a handful of portable toilets.

Snyder said she looks forward to hearing more from the community and organizations like Portland Downtown.

“It will be interesting to hear from them and community members who may be reacting to ideas that are coming forward for the council’s consideration,” she said. “I’m not walking into this with any predetermined outcomes.”

The forum starts at 5 p.m. and can be accessed through the city’s website or by clicking this link.

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