Published Date Written by Craig Lyons
Mayor Michael Brennan says he's not one to talk about change but rather what people want to see to move Portland forward.
Brennan laid out some of the initiatives he plans to move forward with in 2014 to make Portland a better place, giving an outline during his second state of the city address on Wednesday. The mayor said he plans to create groups to look at income disparity, substance use and abuse, grow the economy and institute a city-wide minimum wage and enact a moratorium on new charter schools.
Brennan said he wants to grapple with the issue of income disparity and inequality in the city. Forty-six percent of Portland's residents have a bachelor's degree or higher, Brennan said, but there's a lot of underemployment, with young individuals and families who are unable to afford housing.
A working group will be created to look at income disparity, the mayor said, and explore the possibility of establishing a minimum wage in Portland.
Another measure to improve the lives of Portland residents will be a second group that will look at the causes of drug and alcohol dependence and create a series of recommendations on how to better educate people about the issue and address it, Brennan said.
"I think it's an important discussion and debate for use to have as a community," he said.
There's no question that the City Council is a strong supporter of public education, Brennan said, and that's why he thinks it's important that the city establish a moratorium on charter schools taking root in the community. He said Bangor passed a six-month moratorium and has since extended it.
With all of these new initiatives getting started, Brennan said it's important that Portland keep track of how it's dealing with issues.
Portland annually appears on a number of lists that compare cities in an arbitrary fashion, Brennan said, but he wants to implement a star management system that look at numbers and data to show where the city really ranks. The star system will give the city a way to measure how it's doing in the areas of economics, civil rights, energy and housing, he said.
"It will give us, over the next three years, a quantified view of the city of Portland," he said, and allow people to see how Portland stacks up against other cities.
Everyone on the council and in the city can agree that they are blessed to live in Portland with its many assets and attributes, Brennan said, and that's why its important to make the best decision for the city.
"We are the stewards of the city and we are the stewards of the future," Brennan said.
Beyond what Brennan said the city should be doing in the future, the mayor reflected on the changes made during the last year.
Brennan said the city launched the ConnectED initiative; made improvements at the Fire Department including advanced CPR training that have saved at least 20 people; oversaw a process where the Police Department trained all of its officers to deal with people in distress or dealing with mental or addiction problems; worked within the Department of Health and Human Services and saw that 659 homeless people found permanent housing; waged job placement efforts to find employment for 309 people; oversaw the Department of Planning and Urban Development as it modified its permitting process to cut the average wait time from 41 to 31 days; presided as Portland exceeded the state requirements for restaurant inspections; and spearheaded an initiative in which the Department of Public Services saw that 51 Big Belly trash bins were installed to cut down on the amount of waste on the city's streets.
Despite the many positive accomplishments, Brennan said decisions made at the state and federal level of governments took their toll on Portland.
"We have felt the impact of sequestering," Brennan said, referring to federal budget cuts, and said it affected both educational and housing programs.
Because of choices made in Augusta, Brennan said the city suffered a major setbacks. He said the city lost $2 million in revenue sharing, lost the Circuit Breaker program and will now have to absorb half the cost of teacher retirement contributions in its budget.
While the city has had to bear the brunt of those decisions, the state has made no effort to find ways to reduce the tax burden on its residents, Brennan said.
Brennan said there is a movement to restore $40 million to the municipal revenue sharing program, and without the passage of that legislation, the city stands to lose another $3 million. He said if another cut is levied, it will mean in two years Portland has seen its revenue sharing go from $6 million to $1 million.
"The last year has been a lot of different issues, a lot of different projects and a lot of different decisions for the City Council to make," Brennan said.