2013-07-26 / Front Page

Not with a bang, but a wimper

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND – Two issues that consumed South Portland’s municipal attention and brought heated debate from dozens of residents with strong opinions last year neared a quiet conclusion Monday night, July 22.

The South Portland City Council decided to accept in workshop Monday – with a minor tweak – the report of a Blue Ribbon Commission formed to decide compensation for municipal boards and commissions. In the same workshop, the council enthusiastically supported traffic pattern changes in Knightville that went into place in October after lengthy and intense discussions.

The Blue Ribbon Commission was composed of seven residents hand-picked by an independent consultant. The commission was formed in spring after a long, sometimes nasty discussion that resulted with the council stripping itself of its health care benefit. From those discussions, the council decided to review compensation for all its municipal boards and commissions.

The commission finished its report in June after four meetings. The members voted to keep the council’s pay the same at $3,000 annually, but provide the board of education with a $500 increase in its annual stipend – from $1,000 to $1,500 – to keep pace with similar communities.

The council made just one minor tweak to the commission’s recommendation and otherwise decided to leave it unchanged for voters in November for a charter amendment. Based on Councilor Jerry Jalbert’s proposal, councilors decided the charter should include language to allow school board compensation to be “up to” $1,500, thus giving the board some flexibility to make its own decision.

School board members discussed the commission’s report in a special workshop July 8, but came to no consensus in their opinion. Some thought the additional $500 should be accepted to recognize the hard work and long hours put in by members, while others had concerns about the $3,500 total increase in compensation causing budget headaches.

Although many councilors seemed to support an additional bump in pay for the mayor and school board chairman to recognize the extra workload associated with those two positions, the council ultimately decided to send the charter change to voters with uniform stipends for all members of the council and board of education.

Unlike the meetings that packed city hall and the senior room at the South Portland Community Center last year, Monday’s meeting was sparsely attended, with just a handful of residents in the audience to hear the conclusion of the once-controversial issues.

Alan Cardinal, owner of Knightville’s Legion Square Market, was one of the few residents who rose to speak at the workshop. Cardinal said he has received positive feedback from customers to the one-way traffic pattern in front of the store, and he is “very pleased with how people adapted to this change.”

City staff original planned to institute parallel parking spaces in the neighborhood last year at the conclusion of a major construction project to separate underground storm drainage lines and widen sidewalks.

However, business owners in the neighborhood, such as Cardinal, successfully argued the angled parking spaces in front of their businesses were necessary to keep customers who want to quickly get in and out without the need to parallel park.

Mitch Sturgeon, a Knightville resident, expressed his gratitude for the council’s decision to protect local businesses like Legion Square Market, which Sturgeon called “the anchor of the whole peninsula.” If those businesses were to struggle, Sturgeon said, the city’s vision of the area as a thriving downtown hub would “start to fall apart.”

Councilors were pleased with the apparent positive conclusion of the traffic pattern project. Mayor Tom Blake said the city has tried to build the Knightville neighborhood into a flourishing, busy city center since the Casco Bay Bridge replaced the Million Dollar Bridge in 1997, changing the landing point for vehicles and the character of the neighborhood.

The resolution of the traffic issue and the success of the businesses in the area are a positive step in that direction, Blake said, and those two factors will allow the city council to step away from the issue.

“Unless we see something alarming, I don’t see a need for us to revisit this,” Blake said.

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