Mayor Charlie Hales has said timing and need governed his hand in looking to restore partial funding for the Portland Business Alliance's Downtown Marketing Initiative—some five weeks after he and the rest of the Portland City Council passed a budget that gave the program nothing.
In a 4-1 vote today giving the PBA just $170,000 in contingency funds for holiday marketing, a far cry from the more than $800,000 the city spent from its transportation revenues last year, Hales echoed previous statements about how businesses need help most around the holidays. He also said the issue was "time sensitive," in that the PBA needs to spend the fall getting ready for the promotion, knowing what it can spend.
But Hales had some other reasons to be so bullish on such a quick reversal. One reason, as you'll read in this week's paper, was the hope of making peace with the PBA after friction over several issues—not merely limited to Hales' pursuit of a street fee. Hales, according to emails obtained in a public record request, told his staff to make it happen because he saw the request as "an affordable olive branch."
But maybe a bigger reason? Hales is well aware the city can afford it. And some. But he's only hinted at why that's the case, only casually mentioning some new money in the city's coffers. Also from this week's paper:
Thanks to a still-humming local economy, the city budget office says Portland’s staring at a one-time budget surplus worth at least $10 million. That money—technically an accounting of leftover cash after the last fiscal year—is about the size of a similar surplus divvied up last fall. (And it’s still just 1 percent of the city’s combined revenue and spending.)
“Economic conditions are still generally positive,” budget director Andrew Scott tells the Mercury, “and given that we forecast conservatively, we would expect this years ending-fund balance to be equivalent or greater than last year’s.”
That preliminary figure hasn’t been shared publicly. But it’s not been much of a secret in city hall, and it’s made it easier for most of Hales’ colleagues to swallow any objections.
Except, as everyone noted last week, Commissioner Amanda Fritz. Fritz voted no this week, after squelching an attempt last week to hand over the money on an emergency (AKA: immediate) basis. Fritz wants to wait on this issue and several others, until the fall, before redoing budget decisions and spending any new money.
"Are we saying we got our budget choices wrong?" she said. "I can't support this even though i do support the program."