Portland city councilors will vote Monday on proposals for distributing $14.2 million in federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act, including $3.5 million for the city’s planned homeless services center in Riverton and $3.9 million to help replace a community pool in Libbytown.

The recommendations from city staff and the council’s Finance Committee call for using $4.5 million for parks and recreation, $3.6 million for homeless services, $2.8 million for public health and a $1 million each for affordable housing and child care.

The city so far has received half of the $46 million in federal funding to help recover from the pandemic, and has used $8.75 million to fill a revenue hole in the current budget. The remaining $23 million in federal funding is expected to arrive by next May.

Mayor Kate Snyder commended the city’s outreach to the community, which she said helped inform the recommendations.

“I think what this process shows us is how hard it is to make decisions when you have a finite amount of money and there are so many community needs and so many things people look to the city of Portland to do,” Snyder said in an interview Tuesday.

While the bulk of the recommendations come from city staff, Finance Director Brendan O’Connell said the projects were selected because they align with community priorities and are clearly eligible for the funding. Some community priorities did not generate any specific proposals for the city to consider, he said.

“Nearly everything ties back to the direct feedback we received from the community in the ARPA survey and from the City Council,” O’Connell said Tuesday. “A number of the items were both a priority of the community, a priority of the council, and a priority of the city staff.”

City councilors may offer amendments to the recommendations Monday. One of those amendments, Snyder said, could be to fund a $1 million joint proposal from the nonprofit social service provider Preble Street, MaineHealth and Greater Portland Health to create a recuperative care program for vulnerable people being discharged from the hospital. The proposed program would be designed to serve 15 people at any given time and over 200 people a year.

For the planned homeless services center, in addition to the request for $3.5 million of the city’s federal funding, City Manager Jon Jennings is also seeking $3-$5 million in federal funding from the Cumberland County government.

In a Sept. 16 letter to County Manager Jim Gailey, Jennings noted that Portland’s low-barrier shelter provides a regional service. In 2019, he said, the Oxford Street Shelter served 250 people from Cumberland County towns other than Portland, accounting for 13,000 bed nights. And in 2020, he said, those numbers rose to 270 people and 14,000 bed nights.

“Homelessness is a regional concern and necessitates a collaborative response,” Jennings wrote. 

Cumberland County is expected to receive $57.3 million of the $261 million in federal funding allocated to Maine’s 16 counties.

Gailey said Tuesday that he has shared the request with county commissioners, who have yet to schedule a time to discuss it.

“Though I will advocate for the request, I have not received guidance from the commissioners on timeframe,” Gailey said.

Staff has also recommended spending $85,000 to bolster a Portland police pilot project to provide an alternative response to behavioral health calls. The funding would be used to provide communications equipment such as radios and computers and a van to respond to behavioral health calls and transport people to mental health evaluations and services. Staff also recommends that an additional $40,000 go to assist with mental health crisis training for dispatchers and behavioral health staff.

Most of the funding recommended for parks and recreation is to renovate and expand the Kiwanis community swimming pool in Libbytown. The pool was built in 1961 and has lasted twice as long as its 30-year projected life span, according to background information given to councilors.

During a council workshop Monday, Councilor April Fournier said she was “having a hard time” with the pool recommendation when other proposals from the United Way and Center for Grieving Children were not recommended for funding. “It’s not necessarily as critical or urgent as these other services would be,” Fournier said. 

Jennings noted that the city spends $34 million on human and social services – “an enormous amount” – while other community amenities go unfunded.

Snyder on Tuesday described the pool project as a “generational investment,” using one-time funds, that would benefit the community at large, including seniors and families with children.

The public health recommendations include $750,000 to help pay for consolidating public health and social services offices on Forest Avenue, which staff say will reduce barriers to services. Nearly $1.2 million would go to the Portland Water District for water and sewer projects and $725,000 would pay to replace the HVAC system at the Portland Expo to improve air quality.

The recommendations also include an additional $600,000 for public restrooms. But rather than move forward with a proposal by Portland Downtown to install fixed toilets around town, Snyder said the city is considering expanding and renovating existing public restrooms in the Free Street parking garage and making them accessible from the street. Two fixed outhouses similar to those found in state parks are being proposed for Peaks Island, she said.

The spending recommendations also include $700,000 for business assistance, with $400,000 for ongoing economic development programs and $300,000 for the Portland Pilots, who steer large vessels into port. The pilots had originally requested $900,000 from the city, citing a loss of cruise ship traffic, but O’Connell said they would not provide the information required to justify that large an allocation.


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