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This year’s City’s budget process didn’t work well for city bureaus, the public, or Council. It didn’t entirely make sense to ask bureaus to offer across the board cut packages in a year when the city has more resources available. Bureaus were forced to offer draconian cut packages that alarmed and activated community members. Activated community members predictably showed up at community budget hearings to protest cuts to programs they care about with little or no knowledge or consideration of other budget issues. As we know, some groups are better able to mobilize that others and many of the urgent matters that we need to address were not reflected by the turnout and many voices were barely able to be heard over the din. When all was said and done, community centers were all funded while other equally or more important programs and initiatives were not. We need a more thoughtful and meaningful process that will enable city bureaus, the public and the City Council to work together in understanding and prioritizing the complex budgeting challenges we face.
This budget does do some great work to address our most urgent issues, and I’d like to highlight a few of them:
We’ve dedicated $500K to Universal Defense.
As our federal administration continues to target and terrorize Portland’s immigrant communities, I am grateful to be in a position to be able to do something about it. This is an important moment and I am proud to be part of a Council that is on the right side of history on this issue. Thank you Mayor Wheeler for including this add package in your proposed budget and continuing to support it.
We’ve increased our contribution to the Joint Office of Homeless Services by $3M.
We are serving more people facing challenges around affordability, eviction, and homelessness than ever. Unfortunately, what the city and county are actually doing to address houselessness gets lost in distracting debates about Wapato or other well-intentioned, but not well-informed approaches. Investing $31.2 million in the Joint Office of Homeless Services will fund the hard work that doesn’t make headlines, but does make a critical difference for thousands of our most vulnerable community members.
We’re Increasing the Business License Tax for the first time in decades.
The rising tide of prosperity in Portland is not lifting all boats. In fact, as the increasing number of people who are insecure in their housing and becoming homeless demonstrates, things are getting worse, not better for many people in Portland. Increasing the BLT now is a great first step toward recognizing how we can divert part of that rising tide to help the people who are struggling to stay afloat.
I am worried about some of the expenditures in this budget. The Council Budget Office started the budget process with an appeal to consider the sustainability of the city’s finances. This budget generates more ongoing resources but increasing authorized staffing at the Portland Police Bureau by 49 positions comes with significant new permanent funding obligations. Business tax revenues will fluctuate with the economy. We are setting ourselves up for a very difficult conversation by making new ongoing commitments to funding more police officers with a funding source that we know is subject to economic forces beyond our control.
Despite my remaining questions and concerns, I respect and want to support Chief Outlaw as she continues to implement her vision for the PPB. And there are some:
As well as the Mayor’s budget note on a deadline for filling the long overdue Community Service Officer positions and my budget note on decreasing the bureaus reliance on overtime, an expensive and undesirable practice.
There are issues that did not get resolved in this budget, I’d like to highlight a couple of the most important issues that need more work:
Neighborhood Coalition Offices.
Coalition offices are important partners in our efforts to connect community to government. The audit in 2016 revealed what many have known for a long time: East Portland’s population continues to grow rapidly while funding for the coalition office has remained the same. It was important that we address this disparity now, which is why we requested additional funding.
I am disappointed that we were not able to secure the additional funding for the East Portland Neighborhood Office. I want to acknowledge that while East Portland has a rapidly growing population, all of the coalition offices are serving more people than they ever have. This is why I am working hard to reduce the fiscal impact of the rebalancing that will need to occur this year.
We’ve identified $44,000 in existing bureau fund dollars that we will direct to EPNO in addition to the $30,000 we’ve received in this proposed budget. I am also working with the Budget Office to redirect cost savings from my office budget to the coalitions.
ONI Director, Suk Rhee, and I are committed to working with all of the coalitions to develop a long-term method for equitably distributing funding. I also look forward to brainstorming new ways to structure this work, and finding efficiencies and cost-savings, so that we can continue to strengthen all of our neighborhood coalitions.
It is vital that we identify ways for Portlanders to share in the prosperity associated with growth before we move forward with plans for infill. We have a turnkey opportunity to do that by developing a financing mechanism for ADU development. I plan to spend the summer working with my colleagues to develop the support necessary to fund this plan in the Fall budget process.
I’m disappointed that this item was not fully funded. I agree that the city should provide accommodations as part of its normal course of business and that bigger bureaus should use existing resources to comply with the law. Smaller bureaus and their community partners do not have enough ongoing resources to provide accommodations with existing resources. We need a long-term strategy to address this problem.
Overall, I’m happy that we were able to work together to get to consensus about the budget. During these chaotic times in politics, it is important to demonstrate that local government can work together to overcome differences and make progress on the most urgent issues in our community.
My thanks go out to my colleagues, bureau directors and staff, my office staff, the Council Budget Office, and especially to the community members who serve us in an advisory capacity and all those who came to our budget listening sessions.