The Portland City Council voted unanimously Monday to approve a ground and building lease for a planned 208-bed homeless services center in Riverton – a day before a citywide vote that could limit the size and location of most new homeless shelters.

The council also approved spending $14.2 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding, which includes $3.5 million for the city’s planned homeless services center and $3.8 million to rebuild a community swimming pool.

Also approved was a new three-year contract with the Police Benevolent Association, which represents 125 police officers and detectives. The contract, which runs Jan. 1, 2021, through Dec. 31, 2023, increases general wages by $1.5 million over the three-year term. It includes a 3 percent increase retroactive to Jan. 1, 2021, no increases for 2022 and another 3 percent increase in 2023.

The vote on the ground and building leases for the homeless services center at 654 Riverside St. came the night before residents head to the polls to vote on a citizen initiative meant to block the project from moving forward.

City attorneys have said that the referendum will not affect the proposed service center because it was approved in September. But an attorney representing Riverton residents has argued that it will, setting the stage for a lawsuit should Option A pass.

About 30 people spoke during an hour-long public comment period, with few focusing on terms of the lease. Instead, commenters focused more on the election, arguing the merits of the city’s shelter proposal compared with a network of smaller shelters.

Proponents of the smaller shelter option urged the council to postpone the vote until the results of the election are known.

“Honor the democratic process that we have entrusted you to uphold,” said Sally Bowden-Schaible, who has been working on the smaller shelter campaign. “Regardless of what’s the best, I do ask you please to let the citizens have their say. We’ve been working at this like you have. We’re good people like you are.”

But proponents of the city plan, including nonprofit service providers such as Amistad, Milestone Recovery, Shalom House, Spurwink and Through These Doors, urged the council to not delay.

“This lease is a completely different issue than the referendum,” Bayside resident Jim Hall said. “Uphold the legitimate process of representative democracy and do not delay.”

Option A would limit the size of most new shelters to 50 beds, but it’s unclear whether it will affect city plans for the 208-bed center, which was approved by the planning board in September.

The City Council offered its own proposal to compete with the citizen initiative. Option B would limit the size of new shelters to 150 beds.

Voters can reject both proposals by voting for Option C.

The winner needs a majority of votes to win, which means if neither Option A or B receives more than 50 percent of the vote, Option C would prevail.

The ground lease would cap the overall construction costs to $25 million. The city says the $5 million cost increase from the original $20 million estimate stems from changes required by the planning board, an increase in the cost of some materials during the pandemic and energy efficiency requirements associated with the Green New Deal for Portland, which was enacted by citizen referendum last year.

The Developers Collaborative would incur the costs of construction and lease the facility back to the city for $2.7 million annually for the first 10 years. After that, the annual costs would drop to $307,500, with a 2.5 percent annual increase until hitting nearly $434,500 in year 25, when the city can purchase the facility for $1.

“I have no problem voting on this,” said City Councilor Tae Chong, who leads the council’s health and human services committee. “To me this is a continuation of the work we have been doing since this summer. It just happens to be the night before the election.”

RESCUE PLAN

In other business, councilors voted 8-0 to approve allocating $14.2 in federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act, which is meant to help communities recover from the pandemic.

In addition to the funding approved for the shelter and the pool replacement, the council invested $600,000 into increasing the number of public restrooms, $750,000 to help pay for the consolidation of social service and public health programming on Forest Avenue and $725,000 to replace the HVAC system at the Portland Expo.

The spending plan also includes $700,000 in business assistance and $300,000 for the Portland Pilots, who steer large vessels into port. Another $85,000 will bolster a Portland police pilot project to provide an alternative response to behavioral health calls, and $40,000 will assist with mental health crisis training for dispatchers and behavioral health staff.

The council voted 5-2, with Nicholas Mavodones and Tae Chong opposed, to spend $250,000 to invest in the city’s tree canopy, primarily in underserved areas like Bayside. That addition required a $100,000 cut from the Kiwanis pool replacement.

The council voted to cut $555,000 in funding for a Portland Water District project and reallocated that funding for a new recuperative care program for vulnerable people being discharged from the hospital, a partnership between Preble Street, Maine Health and Greater Portland Health. The proposed program would be designed to serve 15 people at any given time and over 200 people a year.

The group had asked for $1 million, but councilors noted that they had also requested the same amount from Cumberland County and wanted the program to receive additional buy-in.

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

Councilors also added $37,000 in funding to pay for a new HVAC system at the Portland Public library.

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.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.