Dave Neeson

WHEN POLICE CHIEF Mike Reese strode into a city budget workshop last Thursday, April 7, he came with a posse. Stoically, nearly a dozen uniformed cops fanned out in chairs behind him.

It was a convincing display of influence. But it wasn't as overpowering as the chief's budget request: $9 million in new money from the city's general fund, further fattening the city's biggest bureau (up to $166.3 million) at a time when most other offices have been asked to cut or hold the line.

But with just a $21.7 million surplus to carve up, at last reckoning, the chief's request puts the city council—and Mayor Sam Adams, who will release his proposed city budget next month—in a bind.

Saying yes will preserve programs commissioners say they want and like: new Tasers, continued services for addicts and the mentally ill, even a new police training center at Portland International Raceway.

It also will keep the bureau from laying off cops. The bureau has lost millions in towing revenue thanks to a court case that limits when drunken drivers' cars can be hauled off. The city also finds itself on the hook for millions in new council-backed pay hikes for its officers ["Breaking the Bank?" News, March 10].

Saying no, however, would let the city salt away some of its surplus for a rainy day in case things get worse, and also sprinkle more money on other bureaus—like housing and parks and fire—who are making big requests of their own.

"We have plenty of onetime money," said one council aide who asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the issue. "If we don't set some of that aside, we'll have trouble down the road. And we'll be cutting ongoing budgets much deeper than we've done at this point."

In a worst-case scenario laid out by the city's financial planners, dozens of the bureau's nearly 1,000 workers would be laid off. And money for the bureau's sobering station, CHIERS van, Project Respond crisis intervention team, and misconduct review board would be eaten up.

Financial planners are urging commissioners not to go that far—yet. They say the city should consider a smaller bureau, but for now recommend only putting off the training facility (even though Adams promised it in his State of the City speech) and skimping on graffiti patrols, among other cuts.

Adams may still push for Reese's full request, but he might not find his colleagues receptive.

"We understand the front-line issues related to mental health, especially, and the community's interactions with police," says Brendan Finn, chief of staff for Commissioner Dan Saltzman. As for the training center? "[Saltzman] would want to see the Office of Management and Finance's blessing."

Commissioner Randy Leonard, meanwhile, said he's prepared to consider staff cuts to deal with the new union contract. But he's crossing his fingers for good news when new forecasts emerge this month.

"If we are on a rebound economically," he says, "that may offset the need to cut."