Ahhhh, summer. The sun's out, the birds are chirping, babies are smiling, wildfires are roaring, and the entire city is out playing some damn game or another—mostly, softball. Lots and lots of softball.
So much softball, in fact, that the Portland Metro Softball Association (PMSA), which hosts league play at East Delta Park, is, according to the city auditor's office, up to its batting helmets in cash. Why does the city auditor care? Because a lot of that money came from Portland taxpayers.
In fact, according to a follow-up to a 2005 audit, the city gave an average of $100,000 a year in cash subsidies to the PMSA between 2001 and 2005. The most recent contract between the city and the association has apparently scaled that way back, but the auditor's office believes the Portland parks department and city council need to reconsider how much money goes to the PMSA.
"The original goal for the subsidy was to get the league up on its feet," says Drummond Kahn, director of audit services for the city. "And they now seem to be largely self-sufficient."
But Parks Commissioner Dan Saltzman and Parks Director Zari Santner aren't exactly rolling over. They co-wrote a response to the report, defending the subsidies by arguing that the PMSA reinvests the money back into the Delta Park sports facility, leading to "sizable donations to the City for facility upgrades and improvements."
So why wouldn't the city just keep the money, and then still have a say in what projects the money goes to?
Here's one possible answer: By giving the PMSA a blank check every year, the parks department is able to lock up a substantial amount of general fund dollars for specific projects. If that money stayed in the general fund, city council as a whole would have to vote on how it's spent—and a majority of council just might not vote for more lighting for nighttime softball games. Maybe they'd vote to spend it on homeless shelters, or—gasp—more police officers.
Saltzman's parks advisor, Matt Grumm, though, argues that the subsidy is worth it. "We wouldn't have nearly as good a softball program without them," he says. "They're a great partner."
On that note, please keep your eyes peeled for the Portland Metro Foursquare Association, which I'm starting right now. I promise to be a great partner to the city, for the low, low price of $75,000 per year, and I promise I'll spend some of it improving the city's foursquare facilities. But I get to choose what color sidewalk chalk to buy.