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Budget issues, Solopower plan fill up City Council agenda

Portland's City Council had a busy week scheduled even before Friday's blockbuster announcement that SoloPower Inc. will build a $340 million manufacturing plant in town with public assistance.

At 2:30 p.m Wednesday, the council takes up the city's share of the financial package for the proposed solar power panel plant - a request from Mayor Sam Adams for $5 million in guarantees to help secure a $20 million state loan.

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The overall Solopower incentive package totals around $250 million in loans and tax breaks, including a $197 million U.S. Department of Energy loan, a $17.9 million in enterprise zone tax abatement and $14 million in state manufacturing business energy tax credits.

Adams proposed that the city loan be backed by parking meter revenue. The Portland Development Commission is promising to repay the Portland Bureau of Transportation if the funds are used.

In return, San Jose's SoloPower plans to build a solar wafer manufacturing plant in the North Portland Enterprise Zone that includes the Rivergate Industrial Area. Although a number of sites are still being studied, SoloPower Chief Executive Officer Tim Harris said Friday that his company wants to complete the deal soon and break ground on the plant in July, with production scheduled to begin in September.

According to the resolution submitted for council approval by Adams, the company plans to employee at least 100 full-time position when the first line starts production. It will employee around 481 full-time positions when all four production lines are operating.

SoloPower originally planned to build its plant in Wilsonville with the assistance of urban renewal dollars. The company changed its mind after some Wilsonville residents began circulating petitions to put the urban renewal district plan on a citywide ballot.

Budget issues also on agenda

Even before the Solopower issue came up, the council had scheduled several important agenda items. They include a number of measures related to the adoption of the fiscal year budget that begins on July 1.

Among other things, the council will receive Adams' budget message, which is essentially his proposed budget. It includes $408 million in general fund dollars, the portion of the budget over which the council has the most discretion.

After that, the council will receive the proposed budget for the Portland Development Commission, the city's economic development and urban renewal agency. It is the first budget prepared under the direction of new Executive Director Pat Quinton and totals $204 million, a decrease from last year's budget of $269 million caused largely by the poor economy and expiring urban renewal areas.

Then the council will hear requests to increase combined water and sewer rates by 7.8 percent. Adams reduced the amount by 1 percent from what the Water Bureau and Bureau of Environmental Services requested, reducing the total amount to be collected by $3.7 million.

The requests are still expected to be controversial, however, in part because they follow years of double-digit increases to help fund the combined sewer overflow project, which is being undertaken by the Bureau of Environmental Services to reduce sewage spills into the Willamette River.

The water bureau is seeking money for a federal Environmental Protection Agency-required reservoir and treatment work, which some residents and businesses see as unnecessary.

After Wednesday's meeting, the council will take public testimony on the proposed budget beginning at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 19, at Jefferson High School, 5210 N. Kerby.

The council agenda and links to individual items can be found at www.portlandonline.com/auditor/index.cfm?c=26997 .