Portland City Manager Jon Jennings presented his recommended municipal budget for Fiscal Year 2018 (FY18), which begins July 1, 2017, to the City Council at its April 5 meeting. The $240 million budget results in a 2.5% combined property tax increase or $65 for an average homeowner with a $240,000 home. Thanks to many positive budget drivers, including a $20 million property valuation growth and an increase in revenues, along with the continued focus on core city services, this is the second budget that has met the Council’s goal of not having a property tax increase larger than 2.5%. Despite the many positive drivers, the City continues to face challenges with respect to grant losses and an increase in county tax assessment.
“You will see through my recommendations that, like last year, we continue to focus on “right-sizing” municipal government so we can concentrate on the core service areas that matter to our residents and businesses,” said City Manager Jon Jennings. “We are continually looking at innovative ways to further improve city services so we can reduce costs, emphasize customer service, and fulfill our commitment to getting things done on a timely basis. We must continue to invest in our infrastructure needs that were set aside for too long.”
The City Manager continued, “we worked hard to implement Council goals within this budget and especially to meet the Council’s goal of no tax increase greater than 2.5%. I’m pleased to say we’ve met that goal with no use of fund balance for the second year in a row. Despite the initial budget requests pushing the potential tax rate increase to nearly 8%, we made tough choices and adjustments equalling a reduction of $4.5 million to the departments’ requests in order to meet the 2.5% goal.”
Permitting & Inspections Department: We are projecting a $570,000 increase in building permits, based on continued investment in the city. In order to keep up with the demand for timely permitting, as well as housing and building inspections, the budget contains two additional Inspectors and two additional Support Specialists. In addition to the increase in staffing, the technology improvements begun during FY17 will be implemented during the second half of FY18. Fast track applications are now reviewed and issued within one week since the department was established.
Parking: The budget calls for a 25-cent increase in the parking meter hourly rate, bringing the total hourly rate to $1.25, which will increase revenue by $600,000. The last time parking meter rates were raised was in FY10. Along with the increase in rates, the City will also be providing an increased level of service to those who utilize our parking meters. Beginning later in 2017 the City will be launching a mobile app which will allow parkers to check time remaining on their meter, add time, and make payments right from their cell phones.
Parks, Recreation & Facilities: This budget calls for three new positions in the Parks Department in order to provide better maintenance and beautification of our parks, which was one of the goals outlined in the Trust for Public Land’s Open Spaces report. The positions include a second horticulturalist, an additional arborist, and a second playground technician.
The department’s budget is predicated on the Ice Arena, Golf Course and Golf Course Restaurant requiring no tax support in FY18. The Golf Course budget includes an additional $50,000 for increased use of organic products.
Waterfront Division revenues are projected to rise by $400,000 due to increased cruise ship activity. The Department requested two new positions including a Waterfront Manager, which we were unable to fund, and a Foreman which is included in the budget. This budget also includes sound monitoring equipment which will allow us to collect data regarding the impact of concerts held on the Maine State Pier and other areas in the city.
Police: The budget includes three new Community Policing positions, a sergeant and two footbeat officers. These additions will allow the department to enhance community policing. A third officer who is being reassigned from a cost neutral 100% reimbursed position as a School Resource Officer at Cheverus will be permanently assigned to the Bayside neighborhood.
Fire: The budget calls for one new Fire Lieutenant/Paramedic to provide additional support on serious EMS calls, which puts us three-quarters of the way to reinstituting what was known as Car 10, which was cut several years ago during a difficult budget process. Since that time, EMS call volume has increased 10 % over the last five years.
Public Works: The Public Works budget includes an increase in funding for pavement markings, moving towards painting street lines and crosswalks twice a year -- spring and fall -- rather than once in the summer. We believe this will address a significant public safety issue for cars, bicycles, and pedestrians.
Planning & Urban Development: The budget includes one additional Senior Planner as well as contractual services funding to accomplish a comprehensive rewrite of the City’s land use code, Chapter 14. An updated Unified Development Code would provide clarity to developers, residents, and abutters as to land use rules in the city. It would also streamline the development review process and incorporate historic preservation and other land use regulations more completely in the code. This is a key step in implementing the City’s Comprehensive Plan.
Assessor: The FY18 budget anticipates further technology upgrades and the development of a communication plan to explain the revaluation process and timeline to the public. This will put us in position to begin the revaluation process in FY19. It’s important to note that a revaluation process does not mean that property taxes will unilaterally go up for everyone, rather it is a rebalancing of overall tax assessment. The purpose of a revaluation is to ensure that all properties are assessed fairly in comparison to each other and are consistent with market value. Portland has not undertaken a revaluation project since 2005 and since that time the real estate market in the city has changed significantly resulting in varying assessed values.
Health & Human Services: Our new partnership with Grace Street Recovery Services at the India Street Health Center will allow Portland to provide the first full continuum of care for people suffering from opioid use disorders as well as other substance use disorders. Grace Street will sublease space from us at 103 India Street complementing our other existing health services there - the Needle Exchange program, STD clinic, and the Portland Community Free Health Clinic. The lease provides roughly $35,000 in rent, plus a share of utilities. The Needle Exchange program and STD clinic are fully funded in our recommended budget.
In Social Services, the budget once again includes $250,000 in gap funding for asylum seekers who cannot yet work. There’s also an additional staff person included for the Family Shelter. This person will assist with transitioning clients into permanent housing.
Non-Union Compensation Study: Ensuring competitive compensation for City staff has long been one of the City Manager’s top priorities. Investing in staff is necessary to attract and retain talented employees. The City recently entered into a contract with Gallagher Benefit Services to conduct a non-union compensation study in order to update all non-union job descriptions and review existing compensation structure to ensure it is based on current best practices and current salary information. Because the study is not yet complete, $250,000 is included in the budget to begin to implement the results of the study.
Council Review & Votes
Following the presentation of the recommended budget to the City Council tonight, the Council will refer it to the Finance Committee for review before approval. The Finance Committee will meet on April 6, 13, 20, and 27. A public hearing will be held during the April 27 meeting. For times and locations, please visit the Finance Committee webpage.
The City Council will hold a first read of the municipal budget on May 1 and a second read on May 15. A workshop will be held on May 8.
The Council will hold a public hearing and vote on the school budget on May 1. The citywide vote to approve the school budget will take place on May 9, 2017.