Portland City Council approves financing $18.3M for capital improvements

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The Portland City Council on Monday night approved issuing bonds to fund upcoming capital improvement projects.

Councilor Nick Mavodones, who chairs the Finance Committee, said the committee unanimously supported the two funding measures presented to the council.

The first will finance a portion of the 2021 CIP budget up to roughly $18.3 million. Mavodones said it will actually require only $10.5 million after debt from the Sewer and Stormwater Enterprise Funds is retired and an additional $1.3 million from the state School Revolving Renovation Fund is included. 

Portland City Councilor Nick Mavodones chairs the council Finance Committee.

The second order will appropriate bond proceeds of approximately $22.4 million for the CIP.

There was discussion about whether to pass the plan as presented or to carve out some sections and hold off on others.

Councilor Kimberly Cook, for example, had concerns about CIP funds earmarked for repairs at the city’s three public high schools. Cook said there were several expensive line items in the CIP, which she was not necessarily comfortable with, given concerns about possible school consolidation.

“Our high schools are running extremely inefficiently,” she said.

The CIP calls for $2 million to be spent at the three schools on items ranging from compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act to rooftop repairs. Cook said approving the CIP proposal without the school portion was required, at least until Superintendent of Schools Xavier Botana or members of the School Board could give a full presentation on the projects.

Councilor Tae Chong, meanwhile, said he didn’t see a problem with approving the funding for the three high schools. He said the improvements, particularly the ADA work, would make the buildings better for students and anyone who enters the buildings.

“It would be a disservice to the public to take that out and make it a longer process,” Chong said.

Councilor Belinda Ray also said she didn’t want to carve out the school portion of the projects, to prevent the School Department from having to go out to bid on its projects later than the city.

“They are good projects, well thought out,” she said.

Another topic of discussion was approximately 45 acres of land behind Riverton Elementary School. Cook said the Housing Committee had inquired in the past about the availability of that land.

Mary Davis, the Housing and Community Development Division director, said the office had inventoried city properties and discovered the property connected to the Capisic Brook watershed.

Ethan Hipple, deputy director of the Parks, Recreation and Facilities department, said the city wanted to maintain the land as open space to help secure future federal grants that the city hadn’t been eligible for in decades. He said the parcel would offset the recreation value lost at Hadlock Field, where the Portland Sea Dogs play.

Because Hadlock Field is not free and open to the public for recreational purposes, the city didn’t have enough public land to qualify for Land and Water Conservation Fund grants from the federal government, Hipple said.

To qualify for these funds, he said, it’s not enough for the city to just protect land – property within the city must be open to the public for recreation.

“It’s very important to us to try and correct this issue because it could open a revenue stream,” Hipple said.

The city purchased the Riverton property off of Warren Avenue in 2015.

Several other large items in the CIP include $1.6 million for pavement preservation projects; $474,000 for lighting upgrades at Hadlock Field, which Finance Director Brendan O’Connell said would be paid for by the city and reimbursed by the Sea Dogs; $350,000 for roof repairs at the Portland Exposition Building; more than $450,000 for public works projects at Woodfords Corner; $500,00 for sidewalk repairs and ADA improvements throughout the city, and others.

Councilors eventually unanimously approved both CIP orders.

This was the first full council meeting following the contentious meeting on Feb. 17, when councilors ultimately rejected a plan to change how public comment could be delivered.

During that meeting, nearly two dozen members of the public spoke against changing the rules, saying public comment was an important part of council meetings, especially for items not on the agenda.

During Monday night’s meeting, relatively few members of the public turned out, and only one person spoke during public comment about non-agenda items. Only two members of the public spoke during public comment on the CIP orders.