Second Annual Report
The year of 2008 has presented us with many challenges that we are facing together. The global economic crisis has forced us to do more work with fewer resources. Over the past year I have focused my efforts on moving us towards a sustainable future, coordinating with Police Department and the neighborhood associations to address crime, refocusing economic development, and strengthening our neighborhoods.
Energy is at the core of the challenges that we face globally and locally. Our dependence on fossil fuels has led us to foreign wars and climate change. In order to face our ongoing energy and environmental challenges, we need bold action to decrease our energy usage, develop renewable energy sources, and reduce our carbon emissions.
The City Council uses standing committees to process policy for the Council to consider. Councilor Donoghue and I pushed Mayor Suslovic a year ago to create a new committee to develop energy policy and Mayor Suslovic created and chaired the Energy and Environmental Sustainability Committee to which I was appointed a member.
The first matter of business for the EESC was a Climate Action Plan to reduce Portland's carbon footprint. The, No Idling Ordinance was also enacted to decrease emissions from private automobiles. We initiated a request for proposals for an energy service contract. The City has received many of these proposals from energy service companies. One of the companies will be chosen to upgrade all of the City buildings and will be paid back through the savings. The investments will improve the energy performance of the City buildings while saving us money and reducing our energy use and carbon emissions.
With sustainability in mind, I worked with the State and the region to expand passenger rail service instead of widening I-295 between exits 5 and 7 in Portland. Last fall, Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation Committee was prioritizing a request for federal tax dollars through an earmark from Maine's congressional delegation to widen I-295. Public hearings were announced for PACTS and the Maine Department of Transportation I-295 Corridor Study.
The League of Young Voters and I lead the effort to petition the State Government to invest in rail infrastructure and maintain the current road system instead of widening I-295. At a public hearing hosted by Maine DOT, over one hundred Portland residents delivered more than 450 petition signatures. At the hearing, public officials, GrowSmart Maine, the Sierra Club, and others told PACTS to drop its earmark request for I-295 expansion. A couple of weeks later, over 150 Portland residents spoke in favor of investing in transit instead of expanding I-295 at a public hearing hosted by PACTS.
In order to expand passenger rail service to Brunswick, the tracks needed to be upgraded. Working with Patricia Quin of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority and Tony Donovan of Fishman Realty, we developed a strategy to amend a bill for the State to guarantee a Federal rail infrastructure loan for NNEPRA. The Chair of the State Transportation Committee, Boyd Marley, successfully amended LD 2019 accordingly in the Committee. Speaker Cummings pushed for its passage in the Legislature. On the final day of the session LD 2019 passed the Appropriations Committee by one vote thanks to Governor Baldacci's influence. It was because of a strong group effort that we will have passenger rail service to Brunswick starting in 2010.
Finally, this fall PACTS voted to prioritize earmark funding requests for sustainable transportation investments and to remove I-295 widening from its top priority list. Councilor Donoghue, the only elected official on the PACTS Board, was key player in convincing the Board to drop the I-295 widening earmark request. Instead the PACTS Board requested regional transit vehicles, bicycle and pedestrian improvements to Veterans Bridge, and rail upgrades north of Portland for passenger rail. Thanks to the efforts of transportation activists across the State, we are now headed towards a sustainable future.
The Police Department under the leadership of Intern Chief Joe Loughlin, has a done a great job adjusting to the loss of the Police Chief, a Deputy Chief, and other members of the force due to injuries, staff reductions, and other challenges. Meanwhile the City has seen an increase in violent crimes in connection with crack and cocaine use. The West End and Parkside were hit particularly hard this year with high profile criminal activity.
As the Chair of the Public Safety Committee, I hosted a public forum for the Intern Chief to inform us on recent crime trends and provide safety tips. The forum emphasized the importance of our cooperation with the Police Department to address our challenges with crime. Through our neighborhood associations we have formed crime watch groups and have met regularly with the Police Department. With the help of the City Inspectors, Attorneys, and the Public Services Department, we have started to address the hot spots of crime in our neighborhoods.
In order to improve policing during tough financial times, we must share resources with neighboring cities. Portland took a big step this year by coordinating with cities and town in Cumberland County and the County Government to develop a regional crime lab at the Portland Police Headquarters. The crime lab will allow local law enforcement agencies to act more effectively and efficiently in solving crimes.
The 2008 Budget was the most difficult the City has seen for decades. Facing revenue shortfall and increased cost, I worked as a member of the Finance Committee to keep expenditures down. Through consolidation of departments and spreading staff reductions across all levels of all departments, the City – not including the School Department – was able to achieve an expenditure increase of less than 1%.
The consolidation, although a challenging undertaking, has brought forth efficiencies. Most notable is the ability of the Pubic Services Department to increase sidewalk plowing by 17 miles, a value of over $100,000. Before the consolidation, the Public Works Department plowed the streets while the Parks and Recreation Department plowed the sidewalks. Ineffective communication between departments often resulted in to ineffective snow clearance. Often the street plowing would push snow onto sidewalks that had already been plowed. In addition to the extra sidewalk plowing achieved through consolidation, the Finance Committee added 13 more miles through the budget.
With the active support of the West End Neighborhood Association, I was able to get the Council to amend the budget and save the Reiche Branch Library. After the Finance Committee had recommended the budget to the City Council, the Library Director announced that a $30,000 budget decrease would result in the closure of the Reiche Branch Library. During Council deliberations over the budget, I identified $30,000 that the Finance Committee had placed in a contingency fund. The Library Director agreed to develop a long-term facilities plan with public feedback and keep the Reiche Branch open in exchange.
The Finance Committee also developed the Creative Economy Steering Committee Recommendations into policies. The CESC, for which I was a co-chair, had embraced the idea of setting up a Tax Increment Financing District and used the TIF revenues for arts and cultural purposes. The Arts District TIF concept was one that I generated while running for City Council two and one-half years ago and published a letter to the editor in a June 2007 issue of the West End News regarding the matter.
With the help of Representative Herb Adams and the League of Young Voters, we were successful in amending State Law to allow the use of TIF revenues for arts and cultural purposes. In the Finance Committee we drew the lines for the Arts District TIF and set a plan for funding the Creative Portland Corporation, a quasi-municipal non-profit with the mission of growing the creative economy by implementing the CESC recommendations. It was a great to see the Council unanimously support the Arts District TIF and the rest of the Creative Economy Recommendations.
Strengthening Our Neighborhoods
As the District 2 City Councilor, my highest priority is to strengthen our neighborhoods through organization, planning, and strategic investment. The neighborhoods of District 2 are characterized as being the most diverse, youngest, with the highest levels of residential density. District 2 also consists of neighborhoods of affluence and poverty. Each neighborhood has unique assets and challenges.
The West End and Parkside are both affected by criminal activity with highly publicized events. Through the neighborhood associations we have been organizing crime watch groups. During neighborhood meetings we discuss the criminal activity with the Police Department and identify steps that can be taken by the City to address the challenges. Neighborhood beautification days have taken place in areas that are hot spots for criminal activity. Efforts are also underway to increase street lighting and porch lighting. Both the Maine Medical Center and Mercy Hospital are working with the neighborhoods and the City to address criminal activity.
Meetings to mediate issues of anticipated institutional expansion have been taking place with Waynefleet School, the Western Promenade Neighborhood Association, the West End Neighborhood Association, the City's Planning Department, and I. Through meetings that are mediated by Alan Holt of the Community Design Studio as a hired consultant, the parties are striving to develop an overlay zone for the Waynefleet School Campus. The overlay zone is being considered as part of a long term vision for the School with strong consideration for neighborhood concerns.
The Oakdale Neighborhood has benefited from increased street sweeping and new sidewalk investments. The Oakdale area near the University of Southern Maine – bordered by Forest Avenue, Dartmouth Street, Brighton Avenue and Deering Avenue – became part of District 2 after the 2000 Census. The sidewalk improvements were funded through the Capital Improvements Program, an annual program in which the City loans for physical improvements. The additional services and investments were brought forth in response to the activism of residents of Oakdale.
After a controversial contract zone was approved by the City Council on Valley Street, I initiated a planning effort with the residents, businesses, and organizations of the surrounding neighborhood. Several neighborhood forums were held in conjunction with Graduate Students of the Muskie School of Public Service with Alan Holt as the Instructor. The neighborhood forums resulted in the first steps towards a neighborhood plan along with calls for the creation of a new neighborhood association. Through helping a group of committed residents of the area, we drafted bylaws and formed the St John Valley Neighborhood Association. The SJVNA is now pursuing a planning process similar to the one that created the Bayside Vision and seeking much needed investments in public infrastructure.
Community Development Block Grant Funds are Federal tax dollars used to invest in entitlement neighborhoods that have the oldest housing stocks and the highest rates of poverty. The West End and Parkside have been entitlement neighborhoods for years. St John Valley Neighborhood became entitled after the 2000 Census when the median incomes of the residents fell below the poverty line and is lining up for its first CDBG investment this coming year. Just west of the St John Valley Neighborhood in District 3 is Libbytown, which also became an entitlement neighborhood after the 2000 Census. In District 1, the entitlement neighborhoods include Munjoy Hill, Bayside, and Cliff Island.
Over the past two years Parkside has received 66% of the CDBG funds spent on reconstructing sidewalks throughout the entitlement neighborhoods. Reconstruction of sidewalks on Park Avenue and Grant Street were funded. Also, the Parkside Neighborhood will benefit from a new playground in Deering Oaks worth $325,000, which will include natural elements along with traditional playground equipment.
In the West End, improvements to Taylor Street Park were funded at $95,000. Sidewalk reconstruction was provided for Brackett St from York to Danforth at $74,000 along with the installation of dozen handicapped accessible ramps near Riche School. The Reiche Community Center has received $225,000 work of CDBG funds for handicapped accessibility, upgrades to the locker rooms, new flooring, and window replacement. An additional $75,000 was provided to Reiche School from window replacement through the Capital Improvements Program.
During 2008 the City, Region, and State took the first steps towards a sustainable future through long-term investments and policy decisions necessary to face the global economic challenges that we are facing. In 2008 my focus was sustainability, public safety, finance, and strengthening our neighborhoods. During 2009 I am excited to continue this important work while chairing of the Housing Committee and the Energy and Environmental Sustainability Committee.
David A. Marshall
City Council, District 2
City of Portland, Maine