No one figured Portland's expected budget surplus this fall—a mere $8.9 million—would go very far once the city's myriad bureaus and offices submitted their blitz of funding requests ahead of this fall's annual city budget adjustment. But city hall's already-meager expectations might need to shrink just a little bit more.
At least half of the surplus, some $4.5 million, could be sent over to the Portland Bureau of Transportation for "back-to-basics maintenance and safety activities," according to budget documents posted today—helping Commissioner Steve Novick and Mayor Charlie Hales realize a promise to invest more city money in paving and safety work before pushing through a controversial new street fee.
And that may not be all that's in store for PBOT, which Novick oversees. That $4.5 million would come on top of any money allocated for paving under a city policy that requires at least 25 percent of leftover city cash be spent on major maintenance projects. PBOT has submitted a separate list of projects, including paving work, that will be added to a ranking of needed work citywide.
"That's a number that's been talked about for a while," Chris Warner, Novick's chief of staff, said of the $4.5 million. Which is true. City sources have said for a couple of weeks they'd expect to see that level of a request and that it would likely attract council support. Hales' office has yet to respond to a question asking if it helped craft that number, although it seems safe to guess the mayor supports it, meaning Hales and Novick would need just one more vote on the five-person council to get their wish.
Novick, seemingly under duress from persistent Oregonian questioning, had floated $7 million as the city's "skin in the game" for the street fee fight—but he made clear not all of that money, if that's where he actually ends up, would come now. Some might come during the proper budget process for the 2015-16 fiscal year.
The documents show Novick's hardly alone in putting forward major requests for general fund cash. The police, parks, and fire bureaus, overseen by Hales, Amanda Fritz, and Dan Saltzman, respectively, have submitted requests listing millions in maintenance and personnel wish lists—millions more than the city has available. Even one of Novick's other bureaus, the Bureau of Emergency Management, is making a pitch for another big-ticket item: nearly $2 million to build out a fueling station at the city's westside disaster response center.
The police bureau is rolling the dice by looking to add ongoing positions, even though surplus money is traditionally supposed to be spent on finite projects or expiring jobs. Hales' office, which oversees the bureau, has yet to comment on whether it was consulted in the crafting and timing of the requests.
The bureau—which is crowing justifiably about saving $1.1 million on overtime costs last fiscal year—wants to spend almost all of that money on a handful of new positions: two cops to work on domestic violence restraining order investigations, and four cops and two analysts to work on its gang enforcement team (the drumbeats about rising violence this year suddenly are understood asas fodder for an argument).
Police brass also are spending nearly $1 million on body armor, which used to be funded with grant money, and replacement, upgraded Tasers. They also write they hope to have a contract to purchase body cameras for officers in place by February. A little more than $834,000 in unspent money that had been set aside for car cameras will be used to help buy body cameras, with more money likely requested next spring.
The camera systems will improve public trust of police as it reflects our commitment to open and accountable policing. The system also comports with the spirit of the City’s Agreement with the Department of Justice. The systems will monitor interactions between police and the public and provide evidence that can be used to resolve claims against police. Additionally, video evidence will result in quicker case resolution, which will then free up police resources to focus on policing. Studies of agencies using camera systems have reported that fewer cases go to trial when video evidence is available. The video recordings of police performing their jobs will provide training materials for officer self-improvement, as well as serve as a powerful bureau-wide body of training resources regarding police-public interactions.
The city also will have some unspent contingency funding, perhaps a few million, that could be spent ongoing expenses with little compunction, sources say. That number has not yet been released.