The Portland City Council adopted a $269 million budget during a jam-packed meeting Monday night in which it also appointed a new city clerk and voted in support of forming a state-level homelessness management task force.

The city budget, which includes a 5.5 percent tax rate increase, was approved unanimously.

“There’s been unprecedented pressure on city administration as the result of inflation and the cost of personnel in terms of retention, hiring and recruiting as well as the pressures that have been put on us to deal with significant refugee resettlement issues,” said Councilor Mark Dion, chair of the council’s finance committee, prior to the vote. “So this 5.5 percent is as prudent and reasonable a budget as we could deliver.”

Residents will vote June 14 on a proposed $133.1 million school budget, which includes a 4.1 percent tax rate increase. Taken together with the city budget, the overall tax rate increase this year would be 4.8 percent, or 62 cents per $1,000 of assessed value if the school budget is approved. Taxes on a $365,000 home would increase by about $227.

The city budget is up nearly 27 percent over last year’s $212 million budget, which officials have said is largely due to inflation as well as increased social services and General Assistance costs due to homelessness and an influx of asylum-seeking families in need of shelter. The city is currently providing shelter to about 1,700 people on a nightly basis, about 1,200 of whom are asylum seekers.



The state reimburses 70 percent of General Assistance costs, and Federal Emergency Management Agency funding is helping cover the costs of emergency housing during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the amount of federal funding will be reduced starting in July and city officials have expressed concern about how long that funding will remain available.

The council made few changes to the city manager’s proposed budget on Monday but did agree unanimously to add one additional full-time equivalent employee to the city’s sustainability office at the request of Councilor Andrew Zarro. The additional position will be paid for with parking revenues and will not add to the tax rate.

“I would go way further in on this one if I could, but it’s a step in the right direction,” Zarro said of the added position, saying it is necessary to help the city meet its goals around addressing climate change.

Some of the budget increase will be offset with fee increases, including a downtown parking meter fee increase of 50 cents to $2.50 per hour, and an increase to the cost of pay-as-you-throw trash bags, which will increase by 25 cents per bag to $1.75 for 15-gallon bags and by 50 cents per bag to $3.50 for 30-gallon bags.

Only three residents spoke on the budget during a public comment period. Brackett Street resident Steven Scharf said he was concerned about the council’s decision to not hold the school board to a recommendation from the finance committee asking it to reduce its budget by $1 million and encouraging the board to use federal funds to meet those costs.

“You should take it out of the city side,” Scharf said.


He also expressed concerns about the “spiraling cost” of sheltering people in need of emergency housing. “Why are we paying for it? Why are we even attempting to house them? All that cost should be on the state of Maine,” he said.

Resident Bill Weber expressed support for the additional position in sustainability, saying it’s an opportunity for Portland to “lead the way,” while resident George Rheault questioned the need. “What exactly is this position going to enable the sustainability office to do that it isn’t doing already?” Rheault asked.


The council also approved a resolution Monday calling on the state and Gov. Janet Mills to immediately form a homelessness task force to revise General Assistance law, establish a state resettlement office and statewide emergency shelter system, and to address other issues that impact homeless people. The task force would include elected officials and staff from local, state and federal government, non-governmental organizations, members of the legal community, real estate developers and others.

“The intent of bringing this resolution forward this evening is a recognition that after a lot of work that really started in earnest in September 2021 and carried through the budget process, we realize there’s a lot of work still to do,” Mayor Kate Snyder said in introducing the proposal for the task force Monday.

Snyder hopes the task force could be convened immediately and that it could work on solutions to homelessness and emergency housing ahead of the start of the next legislative session in January.


“There really is a timing factor here that we’ve considered and talked about … as a council and as a staff, and broad stakeholder engagement is critical,” Snyder said.


The council also rejected a proposal for an emergency shelter licensing program, approved a code of ethics and appointed a new city clerk.

The shelter licensing program, which originally was approved in November but later reconsidered, would have required all emergency shelters, including the city-run adult and family shelters, to apply for and receive licenses, and would implement a two-tier license fee structure for small and large emergency shelters.

The program would have created a bed-density cap of 300 beds within a one-mile radius, a 1,000-foot buffer zone between shelters and a requirement that shelters provide space during the day for those they are housing. It would have included exemptions for pre-existing shelters.

But some councilors expressed concerns about the new requirements being burdensome for shelter providers and coming at a difficult time when many are already struggling with staff shortages.


“What is resonating with me is what a few councilors have said, which is the additional burden this places on their operations and the staffing challenges, where this well-meaning effort could have a negative impact on the ability to support the most needy in our community,” Councilor Roberto Rodriguez said.

The council voted 5-4 to reject the licensing rules, with Snyder, Dion and councilors Tae Chong and Pious Ali in favor of the program. After the vote, the council voted unanimously to indefinitely postpone the shelter licensing program.

The code of ethics, which was approved 4-0 by the council’s rules committee last month, establishes rules to address issues such as conflict of interest and use of public resources. It was approved unanimously.

The council also voted unanimously Monday night to appoint Ashley Rand as city clerk following the retirement of Kathy Jones on June 17. Melissa Cowie, deputy city clerk, will serve as interim clerk between Jones’ last day and Rand’s first day, which is scheduled for July 6. Rand is currently deputy director of economic development in Westbrook and will earn a salary of $100,000.

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