Cake for Everybody! 

Mayor Sam Adams Slices Up Portland's $26 Million Budget Surplus

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THERE WAS JUST a drop of sour news in an otherwise very sweet news conference on the city's $406 million operating budget Tuesday, May 3. Because of higher-than-expected labor contract costs ["Breaking the Bank?," News, March 10], officials in Portland's bureaus have been asked to chip in for another $1.5 million in ongoing cuts.

Besides that, Mayor Sam Adams beamed as he laid out a spending plan that—for the first time since he took office—largely avoided painful and politically unpalatable budget cuts. Thanks to modest economic growth, Adams instead proposes sprinkling millions in surplus cash to pay for things like homeless programs, economic development, parks, and fire rescue squads.

"This budget continues the approach I've taken" in past years, said Adams, "to help those who have been hit hardest by this recession but also to invest in fundamental change that will make Portland a more resilient city."

The mayor's plan also manages to squirrel away $10 million out of a $26 million general fund surplus, for future budgets. And although it retains a controversial leaf-removal fee, the plan also proposes modest cuts in planned sewer and water rate hikes.

All told, commissioners asked for $30 million worth of programs, says Andrew Scott, the city's financial planning manager. And even though Adams worked some budget magic to scare up even more cash—including allotting close to $2 million in unused money from the current fiscal year—plenty of good ideas were left on the cutting-room floor. A more detailed plan is due out this month, and then the council will vote after that. For a closer look at the mayor's plan, click here, here, and here. Some highlights:

Public safety: The police bureau raked in the biggest bucks—over $7 million—but also had to cut $1.3 million from its administrative operations which will make up for much of the cost of its two new labor contracts. The bureau is getting money for new shoulder-fired Tasers and longer Taser probes, and also to replace aging equipment, but on a one-time basis. Its social services programs will also be funded, plus the city is spending $600,000 on a city-county treatment center for the mentally ill, and no cops will be laid off.

Meanwhile, the mayor says he's committing the city to building a new training center for the police bureau, but has allocated just $250,000 for preliminary design work and to find the right location—probably on Portland International Raceway land, but not necessarily.

On police oversight, the mayor has decided to permanently fund the city's assistant director for the Independent Police Review office—but is giving the police bureau just one-quarter the money it sought to run its own internal misconduct boards.

The fire bureau has been asked to make deep cuts in non-emergency staffing and equipment, and it did not receive funding—yet—for EMTs to drive the city's new SUV rescue vehicles. But it will continue getting money for a fire station on NE 57th and Sandy and a rescue unit at SE 92nd and Foster. The mayor also restored a rescue unit at the fire station at East 74th and Burnside.

Housing: Commissioner Nick Fish's housing bureau also made a sizable request—close to $6 million—but was allotted just under $4 million. That number, like those of all the other bureaus, might have been higher if not for the police bureau's ask. Adams doled out $390,000 in one-time cash for Portland's new homeless day center, Bud Clark Commons, and wants to spend $1.4 million on short-term rent assistance. But he either shaved down requests—or cut them altogether—to fund minority homeownership programs, emergency assistance for homeless families, and a citywide, 25-year housing plan.

Equity: Adams has cobbled together about $1 million to start his new Office of Equity, helmed by Commissioner Amanda Fritz, with about half that funding being brand new and the other half pulled from existing programs. A half-million bucks would go toward building four to six parks east of Interstate 205, and $280,000 more would help fund the city's East Portland Action Plan. The mayor also agrees the city should spend $400,000 making city hall and the council chambers more accessible to those with disabilities.

Rates: Sewer and water rates are still going to go up next year, just not as much. The mayor wants to dial back the hike from 8.8 percent to 7.8 percent, the equivalent of a $3.7 million cut for customers. The rate cuts don't affect the city's general fund—but they may help the mayor's electoral aspirations. Dubious spending of utility revenue on tangential projects—at a time when sewer and reservoir upgrades are driving up rates—has been ripped by the auditor's office and advocacy groups.

The mayor's much-criticized leaf-removal fee also will return, affecting residents in leafy, and mostly affluent, neighborhoods. There is one difference: This year, residents can dump all their leaves into the street for the city to pick up, at no extra charge.

"It's the same amount, with more services," Adams says.

The rest: Sharing in the spirit of austerity, Adams says he halved one of his own requests: He's only allocated $500,000 for a Portland Community College scholarship program.

In other notable decisions: the Oregon Food Bank is getting $100,000. Money to rearrange offices across the city's far-flung buildings has been cut. Cash to take over Multnomah County River Patrol will wait for a budget update. The Portland Development Commission would get $3.2 million, more than it originally sought, for neighborhood development and business recruitment programs.

Also, the Portland Loo is slated to receive just $152,000—a whack from the $352,000 sought by Commissioner Randy Leonard. That means only two new loos, instead of four.

Or not. Says Leonard: "I might be able to stretch three out of what I got. Obviously if one doesn't get everything one wanted, one looks at the other bureaus... but Sam did a very good job."

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