By Carol McCracken (Post # 1,889)
The City Council voted this evening to approve a budget proposed by the Finance Committee in the amount of $220,985,836 or a 3% increase for the 2015 budget. That also includes the school budget that the public recently approved.
The vote approving the budget was not unanimous. Councilors Cheryl Leeman and John Hinck voted against the budget. Councilor Hinck said he was voting against the budget not because of fraud or abuse he found in it. He said he’d heard from people who supported other ideas to make the city more desirable, such has better lighting and litter pick-up. “We need to pay more attention to the tax burden. While it is not the highest in the state, big departments could handle well with smaller budgets,” Hinck said. Councilor Leeman agreed with Hinck. “I don’t know if I can add anything to that. People are getting overburdened with daily living and then adding this tax increase…I’m scared where we are going with our budget. Our population is aging. . We need to stay competitive on property taxes. At some point, we have to say no – I’m saying no,” said Leeman.
Members of the Finance Committee, chaired by Nick Mavadones supported the 3% increase. Councilor Ed Suslovic said that next year’s budget is a concern, but was critical of the overtime expenses of both the Fire and Police Departments. Councilor Duson said it has been a challenging year with the decrease from Augusta, but “that it is (the increase) is a notch down from previous years.” Councilor Mavadones defended the 3% increase by saying in part that “if there were no increase, the budget would be reducing services and positions.”
Mayor Michael Brennan said that he doesn’t disagree with Councilor Hinck, but nothing is more important than to invest in our public education system. A loss of $75 m over two years can be attributed to ‘Governor LePage and the state legislature. We have to look to property taxes to make it up. We want to do everything we can to minimize taxes, but we have to do everything we can to move forward.” Several members of the public spoke in opposition to the budget increase, including Marc Hall of Peaks Island. The final vote was 7 – 2.
The City Council unanimously approved a recommendation from the Planning Board to rezone part of the Portland Housing Authority (PHA) residential campus in East Bayside from R-6 to R-7, a/k/a Kennedy Park. The zone change was requested to facilitate development of a proposed 45 unit housing development, Bayside Anchor. There is a parking lot at the corner of Boyd Street and Oxford Street that PHA wants to convert into an affordable housing project, but requires a zone change to meet the density requirement needed. This zone change will permit the PHA to pursue additional projects in the future for the over 10 acre housing campus said Mark Adelson, executive director of the PHA.
Several homeowners in the area did express concern about the speed with which the process proceeded and that renters did not receive notices of the numerous community meetings because they are not property owners in the area.