I broke my rule today about covering Portland City Council meetings—which amounts to "always go, even if the agenda seems perfunctory and/or the mayor is out of town so how could anything actually interesting happen, because what if you miss something surprising."
I missed something surprising. Because while I was doodling through the Mercury's weekly editorial meeting, commissioners—spurred on by Steve Novick—managed to get into a spirited debate about next year's budget surplus and the policy implications of fulfilling past promises no matter the apparent cost.
It started when Novick balked at the parks bureau's request for $477,000 in unexpected annual maintenance costs for the long-planned, long-delayed South Waterfront Greenway project. Despite policy requiring the city to pay for maintenance costs every time it approves building a new park, no one, in this case, had actually built that maintenance figure into the city's current financial forecast.
And it ended, more or less, with Novick coaxing two of his colleagues, Dan Saltzman and Parks Commissioner Amanda Fritz, into agreeing to "re-examine" the police bureau's long-targeted Mounted Patrol Unit (costing nearly $900,000 a year) as a way to pay for the new expense. That was, apparently, Novick's requirement for supporting construction contracts for the Greenway project. He still had the council push off approving the maintenance costs for another week.
The Oregonian's city hall team was following the debate on Twitter—but didn't include the police horse wrinkle.
Novick, as we reported Monday, has made cutting the police bureau's $175 million budget one of his cause célèbres this budget season. It's one of his solutions for making what's currently just $5.9 million in surplus ongoing money stretch a little further. Approving the Greenway money without lumping it into the bigger budget debate would only cut what was available, Novick argued.
Hence Novick's gambit, putting two of his colleagues (Nick Fish, former parks commissioner, did not chime in) on the record with support for at least exploring his top wish: Ditching the mounted patrol. It's a victory for Novick, and it could mean the end of the unit, which survived last year's budget bloodbath (the commissioners privately had been ready to kill it) only because community volunteers stepped up with a $200,000 gift that persuaded Mayor Charlie Hales to stay the ax.