Portland to borrow for energy projects
The City Council agrees to seek up to $11 million for 45 buildings, saying now is a good time.
By Dennis Hoey email@example.com
PORTLAND — The City Council agreed Monday night to borrow as much as $11 million for energy improvement projects in 30 municipal and 15 school buildings throughout Portland.
The Barron Center will receive the largest share of money, $2.4 million, including $1.4 million for new boilers.
Other allotments for energy improvements include $450,000 for the Portland Exposition Building; $392,000 for City Hall and Merrill Auditorium; $423,000 for the public safety building; $1.2 million for the Lyseth Elementary School and $694,000 for Deering High School.
Although most of the projects are expected to pay for themselves over time through energy savings, councilors defended their decision after several residents questioned why the council didn't put the borrowing issue out to public referendum.
"We are spending money to save money," Councilor John M. Anton told critics. "And we are borrowing at historically low interest rates. This is good fiscal management on the city's part."
The projects come in response to an energy audit done earlier this year by Ameresco, a Massachusetts-based consulting firm.
Ameresco has said that the projects will save about $700,000 a year in utility costs, and by the end of the 20-year bond period will pay back the cost of the work and interest on the bond.
Councilor David Marshall said the energy conservation measures will enable the city to reduce its carbon footprint by more than 30 percent -- the equivalent of taking 900 cars off the road.
"I can't see how this could be seen as a negative," he said.
Steven Scharf, president of the Portland Taxpayers Association, Robert Haines and Charles Bragden each urged the council to put the borrowing measure out to voters.
Portland's bond counsel, James Saffian, wrote in an e-mail to city attorney Gary Wood on Friday that the council did not need voters' approval to borrow $11 million because no single capital improvement would exceed the city charter limit of $4 million.
"We are issuing bonds for 20 years for some things we won't see a payback for 50 years," Haines said. "It's not a threat or even a challenge, but there may be a group in the city that will challenge this in court."
"The public has no sense of what you are planning to do with this money," Scharf said. "We're spending this money without having a public conversation. Folks have no choice. You are going to spend $11 million of their money."
Bragden said he could see the value in some of the energy projects, but he questioned the wisdom of authorizing such a large expenditure without getting public approval.
Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org