istock / halduns
Ryan Alexander-Tanner

AFTER MONTHS of push and pull, Mayor Charlie Hales found a sweet spot last week with a dollar figure: $6.8 million.

That’s the amount of increased police spending that Portland would commit to under a tentative deal with the city’s rank-and-file police union, the Portland Police Association. It’s based on a 9 percent increase in pay for union members over three years.

The deal would cost millions less than a past deal Hales had worked out with cops—crucial savings in order to secure the votes of Portland city commissioners, who are always leery that big new expenses will cut into priorities in their own bureaus. But it’s not the whole picture.

You, taxpayer, will be paying more than $6.8 million each year for the deal—though no one’s talked about it much.

According to an analysis by number crunchers at the city’s Fire and Police Disability and Retirement Fund (obtained by Hall Monitor), the tentative deal would result in millions more in payments to retired cops. It’s an involved calculus, thanks to a hodgepodge of rules around police pensions, but the analysis shows escalating costs for more than a decade into the future as a result of the deal.

Two years from now, the fund predicts, payments will be $1.2 million more than they would have without an agreement. Two years later, they’ll be $2.3 million higher. And so on.

“Contribution costs continue to increase (beyond inflation) for an additional 15 years or so,” the analysis says.

Some of this is self-explanatory. Cops, by virtue of getting raises, will finish their careers with higher salaries, and so qualify for larger pensions.

Some of that is a product of a bygone era. The oldest retirees still on the books are part of an old system that actually gives them raises when current cops get raises.

And none of this money would be available to fund the city’s other pressing needs—things like paying parks employees, or the $3.5 million budget hole created by a commitment to homeless services. Fire and police pensions are unique in that they’ve got a dedicated revenue stream from your (or your landlord’s) property taxes.

To be clear, none of this means the deal Hales’ office has crafted is a bad thing. It eliminates grievances the police union has filed against the city, and finally rids Portland of the toxic 48-hour rule that gives cops two days after shooting someone before speaking with internal investigators.

The deal also ramps up starting pay in the police bureau, which most people agree is crucial if the city’s going to address the police staffing crisis that threatens to gut important specialty units.

There’s debate about whether raises for other, more senior cops will convince them to stay put or hasten their departures. And there’s no guarantee any of this will solve the staffing problem—a point Hales concedes and that others in the city have grumbled about.

But the deal appears as good as done. Let’s just be honest about how much it’ll actually cost.