Mayor Ted Wheeler has released his proposed city budget for fiscal year 2019-2020, which begins on July 1. Fun! While Wheeler’s budget—informed by the initial requests of bureau directors, feedback from city budget analysts, and public comment—is not set in stone, it’s considered the first draft of the final city budget that will be approved by city council on June 12. (Don’t worry, you’ll get a chance to comment on it before then.)
According to the most recent revenue projection by the City Budget Office, Portland’s general fund for the coming fiscal year will hit around $577.3 million—with the vast majority going toward non-negotiable ongoing programs and employee costs. That leaves the city council with $18.4 million in one-time funds and $2.4 million in ongoing funds to split among the city’s numerous bureaus.
Here are some of the more interesting areas where Wheeler believes those dollars should be spent (for a full run down, click here):
Parks and Community Centers
Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R) is currently facing a $7 million budget gap, based on the department’s relatively static revenue not matching its growing parks and community center programs. The unreliable revenue system, which largely relies on class and rental fees, is a long-simmering problem that the bureau only discovered this year. PP&R chose to address this major gap with sweeping jobs cuts and threats to shutter beloved public facilities—including Hillside, Fulton, and Sellwood community centers.
Wheeler’s proposed budget includes funds to cover the summer programming at Sellwood and Hillside community centers, suggesting they won’t continue to operate in the fall. The budget also allows the Columbia Pool and the Community Music Center to stay open for at least one more year, and grants Multnomah Arts Center enough funding to remain open for two more years. It’s unclear, however, how the city plans to keep any of these facilities running past their short-term budgets.
In a Wednesday interview, Mayor Ted Wheeler said these funds, “Give us the space we need over the next 12 to 18 months to explore new operating models. And that’s to be determined what that will look like.”
Wheeler said he heard a number of compelling ideas from the public about how to create a more reliable revenue stream for PP&R, but that the decision will ultimately be up to Parks Commissioner Nick Fish and PP&R Director Adena Long to make.
“I would support taking a long hard look at a fundamentally different revenue stream,” Wheeler said, suggesting the creation of a parks district that independently taxes the public.
The mayor’s budget also eliminates 55 full-time PP&R jobs.
The crown jewel of this section: Wheeler wants to hand $200,000 in one-time funding over to a water taxi nonprofit called Frog Ferry. According to the budget, the ferry would offer an “alternative transportation option to ease the traffic burden on freeways and roads.”
The Frog Ferry is expected to shuttle people from Vancouver to Lake Oswego, and any spots along the way. This is probably the least expected addition to Wheeler’s lofty budget draft.
He’s also proposed a few more traditional transportation projects: $500,000 to replace street lamps around Portland, $2.3 million to replace the Cornell Tunnel, $1.5 million to create more ADA-approved sidewalks, and $1.5 million to fund the city program that removes run-down and abandoned RVs.
Wheeler has approved the full $182,727 for a new 911 response program within the Bureau of Emergency Communications (BOEC) meant to connect people calling to report low-level physical and behavioral health issues with a nurse, instead of a police officer. Dubbed the “Nurse Triage Program,” the funded plan has the potential to lessen the workload of Portland Fire & Rescue workers and officers with the Portland Police Bureau—while improving the health and safety of people calling 911 for medical help. The funds will go toward a two-year pilot version of the program.
Wheeler also tacked on an unexpected $500,000 to fund “future needs associated with a Portland Street Response initiative.” This wasn’t mentioned in BOEC’s initial budget ask, but it’s assumed the funds will be reserved for future collaboration between the city and the Street Roots-penned Portland Street Response. Wheeler said he doesn’t know where those dollars would go—yet.
Portland Fire & Rescue initially axed one Rapid Response Vehicle (an SUV for staff to drive to non-fire emergencies instead of a massive fire truck) from its budget proposal to try and save money. Wheeler restored funds for that vehicle.
Another larger piece of Wheeler’s proposal: Tasking the Office of Management and Finance (OMF) with creating a multi-bureau team to figure out how to improve the city’s emergency response programs. The goal is to cut down emergency response times, make sure the appropriate person is responding to a 911 call, and generally improve how Portland’s emergency-centric bureaus work together.
Wheeler said that means answering a number of questions, like: “Who’s providing what services now? How are those services being provided and who’s paying for it? What are the gaps in our delivery system and who would be most appropriate to fill those gaps? What resources would be needed to fill those gaps?”
The team will be led by representatives from Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty’s office and Wheeler’s office.
Wheeler called Hardesty’s leadership in this program “critically important to its success.”
This seemingly gargantuan task is expected to be completed by November 2019. According to Kristin Dennis, Wheeler's chief of staff, this budget proposal (which doesn’t have a price tag) is meant to combat the silo effect between bureaus created by Portland’s commission form of government.
Housing and Homelessness
Wheeler said his top priority in this year’s budget is addressing housing and homelessness. That looks like fully funding the city's contribution to the Joint Office of Homeless Services (JOHS), with $32 million in ongoing funding and $6.9 million in one-time dollars.
Wheeler’s JOHS budget specifically earmarks $250,000 for two pending new homeless facilities: One 120-bed shelter on SE Foster meant for women, couples, people with disabilities, and veterans, and the so-called “Navigation Center” along NW Naito that’ll offer short-term shelter and services meant to help “chronically homeless” adults. He’s also introduced $500,000 to create a drug and alcohol treatment program for recently-houseless people living in supportive housing. Health programming traditionally falls into the county’s jurisdiction, but Wheeler said it’s time the city step in.
“I think it is unrealistic to assume that Multnomah County can do all of that alone with the resources they have,” he said.
Another new addition: Using $877,870 to pay for three mobile bathrooms and three mobile showers that will be shuttled around the city to serve homeless communities. According to Wheeler, the city will also hire houseless Portlanders to operate the pilot “Hygiene Street Response Program.”
The Rental Services Office under Wheeler’s plan will receive one-time funding ($1.4 million) to continue its current services and a new $150,000 to fund a pilot program offering mediation services to disputing tenants and landlords.