Jim Porter Reflects on Two Decades in City Administration

Jim Porter has been a steady fixture at the Calais City Building over the past few decades. Here he is accepting an award from Vinton Cassidy for his “leadership in a time of transition” in 2007. (Photo from The Calais Advertiser archives)

By Lura Jackson

Twenty-three years ago, if you were to go into the Calais City Building with an issue, odds were good that you’d run into Jim Porter. From his early work in Code Enforcement to his time as City Manager, Porter has been a staple in Calais’s administration. That will soon change, however. On Friday, December 21st, Porter will be officially retiring. Before he steps out of the administrative picture, we made sure to catch up with him about past, present, and future changes in the City of Calais.

The past two decades have been significant for the city, Porter shares. Among the major developments has been the acquisition of its own water source. Previously, Calais was dependent on water from St. Stephen, which was not domestically treated, vulnerable to surface water, and prone to shortages. In 1996, after administration developed an alternate potential source in Moosehorn, voters approved the $2 million project. “There’s been an adequate supply since then,” Porter said, adding that the new source is based in a protected groundwater source.

Other improvements have happened relatively recently. The downtown district has been experiencing a revival on multiple fronts. “If you look back two to three years ago, it looked pretty bleak,” Porter said. However, the combination of acquiring Façade grant funds and the City Council making “bold moves” with building owners have dramatically altered its prospects. “It was pretty much on the brink of demise. I think we’ve made great strides. There’s a lot more to do.” Filling the downtown buildings with businesses and residents in the upper-floor apartments is the next necessary step for the revitalization to continue.

Porter has been highly successful in acquiring grants for the city, netting more than $10 million for everything from water and sewer infrastructure to the Children’s Project.

Along with making strides in its own development, Calais has strengthened its relationship with Baileyville. “I think it’s good we decided several years ago to partner in economic development with Baileyville and to hire an economic development director,” Porter said. “We couldn’t have gotten one on our own. If we share, we get more done.”

Through the partnership with Baileyville, Calais has created a fiber optic broadband utility that is now being rolled out to the public. “We’ll be able to get speeds that will be comparable with population areas that are much larger,” Porter said. “It’s a unique utility that we formed, unlike anything in the state of Maine.”

Importantly to residents, Calais has achieved its accomplishments without having to raise taxes. “I’m pretty proud, working with the City Council, that we’ve held the mil rate in check while still paving streets and improving infrastructure,” Porter said. “I think the city is in pretty good fiscal shape,” he said, adding that the fund balance has more than $2 million in it at present.

Porter’s shoes are being filled by incoming City Manager Mike Ellis. “I think we’re in good hands,” Porter said of Ellis. “I’ve been working with him this week and I’ve been impressed with how quickly he’s picking things up. He’s open, accessible, personable, and I think he’ll do a good job.”

 

Jim Porter’s last day will be on Friday, December 21st. The public is welcome to attend a retirement party at the St. Croix No. 1 Firehouse from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on that day to visit with Jim.