Portland delays budget presentation amid questions about federal funding

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Portland Press Herald, Maine
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Mar. 31—Portland is delaying the initial presentation of next year's city budget to get more information about how it can use federal funds distributed under the American Rescue Plan.

City Manager Jon Jennings announced Wednesday that he is pushing back his fiscal year 2022 municipal budget presentation from April 5 to April 26, so he can confirm guidance from the U.S. Treasury Department.

"Since my recommended budget does anticipate the use of American Rescue Plan funds to offset city revenue losses triggered by the pandemic in order to greatly minimize the property tax rate impact on the taxpayers, I believe it is prudent to delay the budget process by a few weeks," Jennings said in a written statement. "ARP funds are to be distributed by the middle of May ... so we do believe this slight delay will allow us to have a better understanding of the rules. This will hopefully help us avoid having to make any changes after the fact."

Mayor Kate Snyder supported the decision to delay. "Using these funds in the most strategic ways will be crucial to helping us recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic," she said in the announcement.

Portland expects to receive $48 million in federal stimulus money over the next two years. Communities across the state are trying to make decisions about how to use the windfall of federal funds as they prepare budgets for the coming year.

The delay in Portland will mean a tighter schedule to get the budget in place before the end of June, when the new fiscal year begins.

Following the presentation on April 26, the council's Finance Committee will hold several meetings in late April and early May to discuss the budget. The City Council will hold a first reading of the proposed budget on May 17 and a public hearing and vote during its June 7, 2021 meeting, the city said.

The Finance Committee also is scheduled to hold a second joint municipal and school budget meeting on April 8 at 5:00 p.m. Additional meetings and information about participating can be found on the city's website calendar or on the Finance Committee webpage.

In Portland, officials have cut 65 positions in the city's workforce since the pandemic began, offering "hazard pay" to some other employees and adopted a city budget that was roughly 20 percent smaller than in recent years. The city also held property tax rates flat last year to reduce the financial strain on local residents.

Jennings has estimated the city's share of federal funds to be $48 million share over two years, and has said his top goal is covering losses in order to reduce pressure on property taxes.