Hall Monitor 

Winners! Losers! The Budget!

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LAST WEEK found Portland City Council enjoying some most unusual circumstances.

Buoyed by a robust financial forecast—and armed with a surplus and contingency fund that added up to nearly $20 million combined—commissioners spent their meeting on Wednesday, November 13, dispensing the kind of goodies they only dreamed about during what seemed like a years-long nightmare of miserable budget news.

Not that anyone got carried away. A lot of it was one-time cash, meaning it couldn't be spent on ongoing needs. And much of that money, close to $10 million, went toward retiring old debts—freeing up money in future years that can be spent on whatever the council wants.

But even that bout of responsibility, pushed by Mayor Charlie Hales, still left plenty of money to play with. Plenty for the council to make plenty of people happy—just not enough to make everybody happy.

So who won? Who lost? Follow me!

WINNER: The Portland Housing Bureau. As expected, the council approved $1.7 million for homelessness programs—fulfilling part of Commissioner Dan Saltzman's answer to heavy political criticism over Hales' camping sweeps this summer.

The money, as promised, targets families and "vulnerable" people, directing nonprofits to work with cops and others to scour hotspots where people gather.

But Saltzman, who oversees the housing bureau, was forced to make one thing clear: This new cash won't be, he promised, a Trojan Horse for more ongoing cash. For now.

LOSER: The Portland Police Bureau. The cops stuck their hand out for more than $1.6 million in new money, trying to restore jobs cut during this spring's budget slog. It got none of it—receiving, instead, money for new police cruiser cameras.

The bureau's request was unusual, given that seasonal budget adjustments are rarely used to fund ongoing positions. No other bureau even broached the subject.

Assistant Chief Mike Crebs, in charge of bureau finances, said Hales never told the bureau not to ask, but did warn it wouldn't happen.

"If you don't ask, you won't get anything," says Crebs, emphatically batting down any suggestion the bureau was trying to send any messages.

WINNER: The Portland Business Alliance and the business community. The city will use some of its newfound money to help out small business owners—raising their income tax threshold to $100,000. That political sop, pushed by Nick Fish and praised by Amanda Fritz, will cost $865,000 a year.

That tax break will cost more, as Steve Novick noted, than a bunch of other programs the city usually fights over at budget time, like the police bureau's mounted patrol and Buckman Pool.

But it was eagerly welcomed by business advocates who said it was well worth the investment in economic development—easing the tax burden for business owners who find it too expensive to pay taxes that fund the services that make Portland a nice place to live.

LOSER: Everyone else. Sounds good, right? But don't let anyone kid you about those economic development claims—including the Oregonian's editorial board.

Because guess how much that gift will actually stuff back into a business owner's pocket? A measly $209, according to a review from the city budget office.

Don't spend it all at once.

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