Sketching a future that includes increased cleanups of homeless camps and hundreds of millions in infrastructure projects, Mayor Ted Wheeler laid out his priorities for the $515.6 million discretionary swath of the city's general fund today.
Where last year Mayor Charlie Hales' surprise plans for a business tax hike had city commissioners objecting almost instantly, Wheeler's budget mostly contains items he's telegraphed for some time—if not on the stump last year, then at least at his recent State of the City address.
Among Wheeler's proposals
•Spending nearly $1 million creating a new Office of Landlord-Tenant Affairs at the Portland Housing Bureau. The office, long discussed, would register all rental units in the city, and track evictions cases making their way through court for the first time.
•Pumping roughly $25 million into Multnomah County's Joint Office of Homeless Services, which works to develop shelter beds and create other options for the city's homeless population. The city's obligated to spend $15 million per year on the office, per an agreement with the county. That number is often spoken of as a mere baseline though. Wheeler's proposal would match the county's proposed spending this year, meaning the office would have $50 million to work with if the proposal remains unchanged.
•But Wheeler is also promising a more muscular response to clearing out homeless camps—particularly those strewn with refuse or hazardous materials. The mayor this morning said Portland will work more closely with other agencies—like ODOT, the county, and Metro—to post notices that camps must vacate certain areas. Wheeler is also proposing a $360,000 contract for three "rapid-response cleanup crews." In the verbiage of the city, which strenuously avoids the term "sweep," "cleanup" can carry various meanings. In some cases the city sends people to merely cleanup trash from encampments. In others, it forces people to move along.
Wheeler, who's frequently said he wants to do away with camping, was asked if he'd heard from homeless advocates about the new enforcement. "I have not been particularly shy or lacking in transparency of my views on this for a year," he replied. "No one’s approached me and indicated they have a fundamental disagreement with my strategies."
•$440,000 more on graffiti abatement, after reports of heightened hate graffiti in the Portland area.
•The mayor is now proposing a whopping $600 million in new infrastructure projects, to be spread over the course of the next two decades. That money would come in the form of bonds, which would be paid for by money coming back onto the tax rolls from expiring urban renewal areas. The initiative, called "Build Portland," would begin with a $50 million bond issuance
this next year. When pressed, Wheeler acknowledged he had no power to force future elected officials to hew to his plan.
"What I’m hoping to do is show good return on investment," he said, and therefore create public pressure for City Hall to continue the infrastructure spending.
•Wheeler's budget would also pay for four park rangers to patrol the Springwater Corridor, and pay for rangers to conduct security at downtown parks, rather than contract security guards.
•Road safety would get a decent injection. Wheeler is proposing $1.6 million for projects associated with Vision Zero, including improvements to the city's five most dangerous intersections, and work that would transform roadways to provide for lower speeds. Wheeler's also talking about spending $650,000 to create a multi-use path on North Greeley. (Disclosure: As someone who rides the hazardous Greeley bike lane daily, I am on board.)
But it's not all additions. The mayor had $18.6 million more than last year's budget to play with, but in the context of uncertain future revenues and rising city costs, the mayor still suggested cuts and funding adjustments—some of which will likely prove controversial.
•As we'd predicted, the mayor is axing the city's diminished, public relations-oriented Mounted Patrol Unit. Instead, the mayor is preaching a focus on community policing that employs a fleet of "community service officers" who "undertake non law-enforcement duties" and help free up patrol officers for pressing matters.
"It’s not a good use of our limited public safety resources," Wheeler said of the mounted patrol, predicting the cut would garner more outcry than others.
•Commissioner Chloe Eudaly is likely to take umbrage with Wheeler's decision to divert $1.2 million that was supposed to amount to the first payment into Portland's new publicly funded elections system. That system is overseen by the Office of Neighborhood Involvement, which Eudaly oversaw until Wheeler assigned himself all the city's bureaus for most of the budget process. Word is she didn't have any warning that Wheeler would divert the expected payment into the elections fund, which the mayor's been skeptical of. (Note:
While we've heard of this cut via discussions at City Hall, it is not specifically called out in the sundry budget documents Wheeler's team distributed. We found it.)
•The dive team that conducts underwater rescues at Portland Fire and Rescue would be abolished under Wheeler's budget. That doesn't seem to have rankled Commissioner Dan Saltzman's office, which oversees the bureau. We're told there's a tacit agreement that the city doesn't have the resources to pay for a proper dive team, and that underwater rescues are relatively rare.
•Buckman pool, an annual football at budget time, would be defunded for good. The pool is currently closed anyway, due to safety concerns.
It's still early, and the budget is huge. We'll have more as we get a sense of how people are reacting to Wheeler's first crack at a budget.