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Slicing and dicing the Portland city budget

Slicing and dicing the Portland city budget

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales is releasing his proposed budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year, which addresses the $21.5 million predicted shortfall and realigns the city budget to reflect the challenges and opportunities of the years ahead.

 “This is a tough budget for a tough year,” Hales said. “People will be laid off. Popular programs will be eliminated. I understand the human cost of these reductions. And we have tried to cut with as little harm as possible. But this fiscal crisis was also our best chance to build a budget based on Portland’s future and not just a carry-forward of its past.”

 To deal with the $21.5 million shortfall, the budget calls for eliminating 182.5 full-time equivalent positions throughout the city; realizing PERS savings recently approved by the 2013 Oregon Legislature; asking each bureau to base its budget on 90 percent of its current cost of services; and reducing the cost-of-living adjustments for all non-Fire Bureau employees by one-half, saving $1.7 million. Furthermore, non-represented employees will have this reduced COLA delayed for six months, saving an additional $300,000.

Other major changes in the budget include:

• Reducing the Portland Police Bureau by 55 positions. The mayor also proposes roughly $707,000 in one-time “bridge funding” to keep senior personnel in position until they retire, and thus not laying off recently hired, younger, more diverse, police officers to achieve the position reduction.

 

The budget largely safeguards the patrol officers, gang enforcement and neighborhood response team positions in the Police Bureau. It maintains most of the city’s dedicated school resource officers.  It keeps most of the property crimes unit, which had been listed for elimination under the Police Bureau’s original budget proposal.  But among the tough decisions was the elimination of a popular program: the horse patrol.

 The budget also would eliminate city funding for Multnomah County’s Crisis Assessment and Treatment Center, shifting full funding responsibility for this mental health program to the county. Portland Police have been prohibited from taking people to the facility because of intergovernmental rules.

• Restructuring the Portland Fire & Rescue Bureau by eliminating 41.8 FTE staff positions; eliminating four standard engine or truck companies and establishing four two-person Rapid Response Vehicle, or RRV, companies, integrating them into regular operations in high call volume areas.

 The mayor’s budget rejected a proposal from the bureau to close up to seven fire stations. Under Hales’ proposed budget, all stations would remain open.

 • Keeping the city’s water and sewer rate increases below 5 percent, combined. The outcome would be an increase of an estimated $4.13 per month for the average single-family bill. When Hales took office, water and sewer rates both had been proposed to increase by around 7.8 percent each. The mayor worked with both bureaus to keep rate increases as low as possible.

 • Reducing management and overhead costs across the city’s bureaucracy, including City Hall offices and many of the city’s bureaus.

 • The city would operate with a $3 million contingency fund. Last year, the city began with a $1.4 million contingency fund, but quickly drained most of that money before the first month of the fiscal year was over.

 PROGRAMS FUNDED, NOT FUNDED

Among the programs that remain fully or partially funded under the mayor’s proposals:

• The Parks-operated SUN schools and David Douglas SUN school.

• Safety resource officers at schools

• The East Portland Action Plan

• The Safety Net collective of programs

• City funding to continue TriMet’s Youth Pass

• The Multnomah Youth Commission

Portland Community College’s Future Connect scholarship program

• The Hooper detoxification center and the CHIERS program to pick up intoxicated people encountered in public areas

• Southeast Works

• Neighborhood tree planting

• Graffiti removal

VOZ Day Labor Center

• Sunday Parkways

 “The hardest part of the budget was picking those programs we just cannot fund this year,” Hales said. “In most cases, it was picking one great program over another great program. There are no easy answers.”

 Those programs facing elimination in his proposed budget include:

 • Buckman Pool

• LifeWorks

• Pass-through funding for Multnomah County’s SUN Schools

• CASH Oregon – a program for filing tax returns for low-income Oregonians

• A needle exchange program

• The annual Symphony In The Park

• A Restorative Justice program in Parkrose

 PHILOSOPHY OF THE BUDGET

 Mayor Hales stressed one theme in his proposed budget: Creating a more stable budget foundation.  Beyond the $3 million contingency fund for the coming year, Hales also said he would look to increase that further in coming budget cycles. “At $3 million, our contingency is less than 1 percent of the general fund. That’s still far too small. But it’s a start,” he said. 

Hales’ budget also includes:

• “Bridge funding” to keep younger, more diverse workers on staff until senior employees can retire. “We have worked hard these last few years to draw a workforce that better reflects the diversity of our community. We do not want to lay that group off now,” Hales said.

• A $1 million innovation fund, to be awarded to bureau directors who find creative ways to provide city services more effectively or with less money. The fund would go to front the start-up cost of any such proposal

• Adopting the recommendation from a City Council subcommittee to study and modify the ratio of managers-to-workers throughout the bureaus, in hopes of reducing the number of manager positions.

• Reducing the use of “one time” funding for ongoing programs. Hales has reined in a longstanding practice of providing funds for a specific program through a one-time allocation, but then doing so again and again.

“It’s about aligning our hearts and our pocketbooks,” he said. “If a program is important, then it should be funded and built into the city’s budget. Period. It shouldn’t have to hope that the City Council can dig up funds year after year from an arbitrary source.”

• The elimination of bureau-funded positions within commissioners’ offices. In the past, the staffs of mayor and commission offices have been partially funded by money allocated to bureaus. “I want to ‘true-up’ the commissioners’ offices: Not to cut their staff, but to make their budgets transparent and real.”

Hales cut the size of the mayor’s staff almost in half at the beginning of this year, and proposes reallocating a portion of those savings to maintain funding for commissioners’ offices after the elimination of “off-budget” bureau-funded positions. 

 

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