Portland City Hall's annual budget dance has kicked off pretty much on schedule—after the budget office this afternoon posted long-awaited 2015-16 funding wish lists from the city's myriad bureaus and offices.
We've just started taking a look—but one bureau's request very much sticks out: The Portland Housing Bureau is asking for just shy of $7.2 million in surplus cash in the next fiscal year, or coincidentally nearly every dollar that won't be earmarked for infrastructure maintenance under a new council spending policy approved last week.
The biggest chunk is $5 million for the city's housing investment fund, which the bureau uses to seed, subsidize, and build housing developments beyond affordable, low-income developments funded through a portion of the city's urban renewal tax revenue. But right behind it is an infusion of $1.6 million meant to extend the reach of another policy approved last week: plans for spending some $20 million in urban renewal funding promised for North and Northeast Portland in the wake of last year's Trader Joe's debacle.
The city's expected to have $14.4 million in one-time money available next year—which is an eye-popping amount (if just a small percentage of the city's overall budget). The problem, as it were, is that more than half of that money's now spoken for—leaving just $7.2 million—with a little bit of intrigue buried in the small print.
Last week, Commissioner Amanda Fritz persuaded Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioners Nick Fish and Steve Novick to back a brand-new policy that binds the council's hand when it comes to spending surplus cash. Half of whatever one-time funding's available in a given fiscal year, as well as half of any money unspent after the end of a given fiscal year, must now be spent on maintenance in three areas: parks, transportation, and emergency management.
Commissioner Dan Saltzman, in charge of the housing bureau, notably wouldn't sign onto the plan before a hearing last week. And then promptly voted against it, with his office making it known they were looking to make a huge request on housing needs and that their didn't agree with approving something so prescriptive.
Curious then, that the housing bureau's request is for almost exactly the amount that's leftover—a defiant ask given that Hales and Novick both raised the possibility last week that they'd try to please voters (in their quiet pursuit of a street fee) by looking at dipping into the unrestricted half of the surplus for even more maintenance cash.
Housing, as Fritz pointed out last week, had been contemplated as one of the focus areas in her policy until Hales nixed it on the grounds that the city, despite paying to build, rarely actually owns it once it's built.