1221 SW 4th Ave. Suite 210, Portland, OR 97204
by Commissioner Steve Novick-- One of the most confusing things about being an American is how many different governments we have. Federal, State, County, City, school boards, Metro... Where does the City fit into it all?
There are some issues the City handles pretty much by itself - but not quite; other issues where the City plays one role as part of a bigger system involving multiple governments; and other issues where the City has no direct responsibility or authority, but has a big interest in them. Here are some examples:
The City is exclusively responsible for water and sewer service, and raises money for water and sewer from ratepayers. But the City has to meet federal Environmental Protection Agency standards for sewer and water systems, and in fact, some of the biggest and most controversial water and sewer projects the City has been involved in relate to EPA requirements.
The City has police, but the police are part of a larger public safety universe that includes a lot of County employees and offices -- the District Attorneys, the Sheriff, the jail, and parole and probation officers - and the State, which has prisons (for longer sentences) and the Attorney General. The Courts, meanwhile, are kind of joint County - State operations. One of my goals as a City Commissioner is to promote a closer and better integrated relationship between all parts of the public safety system. And one of my personal goals in life, as a guy who's interested in better public understanding of government, is to get Dick Wolf to change the intro to “Law and Order” to something like: "In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate but equally important groups. The police, City employees, largely paid for by property taxes, who arrest offenders, and the District Attorneys, County employees who are also largely paid for by property taxes, who prosecute them, and send them either to County jails, also largely paid for by property taxes, or State prison, which in most States are paid for by a combination of sales and income taxes, except in States that only have one of those two taxes."
The City is responsible for City streets, but some of the biggest streets in Portland, like Powell Boulevard and 82d Avenues, are actually State highways, and most of the money for City transportation projects (including basic street maintenance) comes from State and Federal gas tax revenue. Meanwhile, Tri-Met, which runs buses and light rail, is run by a separate board appointed by the Governor.
The City has the Fire Bureau, but these days the Fire Bureau has more medical calls than fire calls, so the Fire Bureau is part of the larger health care system, which includes private hospitals and doctors, the ambulance system, which is overseen by the County, and the federal Medicare and State Medicaid programs. One of my goals as City Commissioner is to see if the Fire Bureau can work more closely with the rest of the health care system to find efficiencies.
The City has parks, which are independent of other governments.... although the Parks Bureau is part of the City's work with other entities in the Intertwine Alliance, which works to increase visitation and investment in natural areas in the region as a whole.
The City provides shelters and other services for the homeless, but the County also has services for the homeless, and the Federal government provides much of the funding for low-income housing.
The schools are completely independent of the City ... but of course, the City has a huge interest in the strength of the schools.
The City does zoning and planning and permitting, but the zoning and planning fits within the broader zoning and planning goals set by the State and Metro.