2017-09-08 / Community

In the Know

FEE SCHEDULE — South Portland City Clerk Emily Scully is in the midst of reviewing a list of nearly 135 permit and license fees charged by the city, for everything from selling alcohol to running a taxicab. Scully opened the topic on the fees, last updated in May 2014, at an Aug. 30 council workshop, saying she planned to create a comparison of similar fees in Portland, Bangor, Lewiston and Auburn. Councilor Linda Cohen asked that Westbrook be added to the study, while Mayor Patti Smith asked to see a list of fees charged by the other cities that do not exist in South Portland. Smith also asked that Scully search “up and down the eastern seaboard, or even on the west coast,” for a comparisons to South Portland’s $135 fee for inspecting oil tankers, an activity the Maine cohorts are not likely engaged in. Councilor Eben Rose used the Aug. 30 meeting to stump for elimination of South Portland’s $5 permit fee to hold a garage sale, a requirement that is routinely ignored. Rose said he recently visited six garage sales, finding that only one was even aware of the need for a city permit. “Meanwhile, that one was the only one that has posted a sign illegally,” Rose said. “Maybe it has to come up as a separate workshop, but would like to see this thing go away.”

Councilor Claude Morgan took note of the more archaic permit fees on the city scrolls, such as the $160 fee for aircraft refueling, or the $80 permit to run a shooting gallery.

“I wonder when the last time was somebody applied to run a shooting gallery?” he asked. “It would be a project to cull out the unused ones, but I think it probably does not harm living on our books as is.” Scully will bring her research to a future council workshop, at which time the council may move on amending the fee schedule, along with making possible additions and deletions.

WORKSHOP SCHEDULE — The South Portland City Council has set its workshop schedule for September, while also adding two new topics to the list of items to be debated in the future. The Sept. 11 meeting will focus on a reorganization plan for the fire department, while the Sept. 25 session will see the council tackle three issues – defining the role of the planning board, amending the city’s purchasing rules, and creating a “complete streets” ordinance with an eye toward better sharing of roads with bicyclists and pedestrians. Once given a green light at workshop, any of the items could then move on to formal adoption at a regular council meeting. The council also agreed to stage its caucus for selecting the next city mayor on Nov. 13. The two new items were not nailed down to specific dates. One, a discussion on how to govern short term home rentals, such as through airbnb and other similar websites, will likely consume an entire workshop agenda by itself.

“We may not want to bundle this with other items as this could be a well attended workshop,” said Councilor Claude Morgan. The topic was sponsored by at-large councilor Susan Henderson.

“It seems that more houses are being sold at very high prices and then used by investors entirely as short-term rental income properties,” she wrote in her workshop proposal form. “This potentially impacts neighborhoods in significant ways. According to one resident, people are finding themselves living next door to a ‘hotel,’ sometimes with large groups partying and no ‘management’ on the premises.

“If a house is being run as a short-term hotel business, this does not seem in accord with many of our zoning codes,” Henderson wrote.

The council agreed that trying to rein in a largely unregulated industry would be “uncharted territory.” Also new to South Portland is the “tiny home” fad. District 3 Councilor Eben Rose suggested developing building codes for such homes that sit on a wheeled chassis, which could be parked for limited periods on small lots not otherwise suitable for home construction.

The list of other workshop topics awaiting scheduling includes review of a master plan for possible expansion of the Portland Street Pier, a document now in the drafting stages, as well as debate on possible banning or charging a fee for so-called “single-use” plastic bottles, as was done last year with plastic grocery bags. That particular item has been stranded on the back burner since February. It was co-sponsored by Rose and Councillor Brad Fox, as was another February holdover – amending rules governing communication between council members and the city attorney. Three final items, all added to the provisional workshop schedule in June, also await scheduling. One deals with debating ways to provide affordable housing, and another with reviewing options for redeveloping the public works garage on O’Neil Street, once the department decamps to new digs on Highland Avenue, while the third would include boilerplate review of ordinance language governing the city’s many volunteer boards and committees.

TV SCHEDULE — Following negotiation of a new cable TV franchise agreement in February, the South Portland City Council is slated to formalize language of the new contract into the city’s code of ordinances, amending sections that have not been updated since 1985. According to City Information Technology Director Chris Dumais, the deal with TimeWarner (now owned by Charter Communications) includes four major changes. The most significant is the duration of the deal itself, lengthened from 10 to 15 years. “We wanted to get the biggest bang for the buck because there’s a lot of uncertainty out there. So, we wanted to extend it as long as we could,” Dumais told city councilors at their Aug. 30 workshop.

Other edits include changing the franchise payment due from Charter from annual deposits to quarterly, now requiring a detailed breakdown outlining the basis of payment, and lowering the performance bond paid to the city if Charter breaks the deal, from $100,000 to $50,000.

On an unrelated note, City Clerk Emily Scully circulated word Monday that live streaming of public meetings on SPC-TV and the city website had broken down. No cause for the problem was cited, but Scully advise the system would likely be inoperable for the rest of the week, at least. The Sept. 6 city council meeting will be recorded for later broadcast online and on TV.

– Compiled by Staff Writer Wm. Duke Harrington

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