Portland City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to approve Mayor Ted Wheeler's mid-year budget adjustment proposal, which included a $44 million investment into an array of city programs. The one-time funds, which are largely fueled by the unexpected revenue from local business taxes, are meant to address "Portland's greatest concerns," according to Wheeler.
"This fall budget process represents the good work we can do right now with the resources at hand to address our most urgent housing, safety, and economic needs," said Wheeler during City Council's Wednesday meeting.
The budget package includes a $7.8 million bundle reserved for public safety programs, which include investments in a body worn camera program for police, a plan to rehire 25 previously retired Portland Police Bureau (PPB) officers, strategies to recruit new officers, and dollars to allow the Portland Street Response to expand citywide by spring 2022. While Wheeler announced this budget proposal in tandem with a goal to expand PPB by 300 employees in three years, Wednesday's plan did not include funds to expand the size of Portland's police force.
The funds also directed nearly $19 million toward programs related to homelessness and trash clean up. Specifically, the budget would expedite homeless encampment sweeps "fivefold," increase the number of available shelter beds, and expand outreach by social service providers at homeless camps. This investment is part of a joint funding promise with Multnomah County to address housing insecurity and garbage disposal.
City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty pushed back on the pairing of homeless services with trash during the Wednesday meeting.
"What people are seeing as trash and disarray [on our streets] are people," said Hardesty. "People who had plans for their children, people who were working two to three jobs because it costs too much damn money to live in the city of Portland. Until we have housing in the city... that people can afford to live in, we will have people on our streets."
"I do not want to mislead the public," Hardesty continued. "Nothing we do today will change conditions on the street overnight."
Yet Wheeler and other commissioners characterized the funds as a way lawmakers could immediately respond to the city's needs.
"My fellow Portlanders, I know that compassion fatigue is real," said Commissioner Dan Ryan. "I know you are calling on us to act. I ask that you accept this fall budget package as the concrete, urgent action that you have called for. Your city council is here and we’re doing what we can."
Wednesday's budget vote falls a week after city commissioners took in more than six hours of testimony from Portlanders on where the surplus budget funds should be spent. Commissioners did not propose any changes be made to the budget based on that feedback. On Wednesday, both Hardesty and Commissioner Carmen Rubio called for a more transparent and community-engaged budget adjustment process in the future.
"We can do better at bringing the most impacted community members into these processes," said Rubio. "Any [budget] process is speedy and I’m committed to finding more ways to include those who cannot participate under traditional advocacy circumstances."
Hardesty commented on the lack of community engagement around policing that was promised on the heels of 2020's social justice protests.
"Portlanders of all opinions have shown that they are desperate for meaningful engagement in our conversations about the future of community safety," said Hardesty. "We have failed to create a genuine and equitable community engagement process around our stated goal of rethinking policing since the murder of George Floyd."
Hardesty said she was initially hesitant to approve the fall budget package, both due to the lack of public participation and because she thought it irresponsibly used one-time funding to stand up longterm investments. But she saw the opportunity to help the city's "most vulnerable" residents with shelter and emergency financial aid as too crucial to delay.
Ryan addressed some of the concerns he's heard from community members about what's missing from the budget package.
"There are some things this package does not do," Ryan explained, noting that he'd met with several business groups that wanted to see more financial support for small businesses impacted by the pandemic.
"The reality is, in order to support economic recovery, investments in houselessness and community safety are essential," said Ryan. "[These investments] will pave the way for Portland’s economic recovery."
Commissioners reminded the public that the fall budget adjustment impacts only a sliver of the city's overall annual budget, and urged Portlanders to reengage with their offices in the spring, when commissioners begin crafting their proposals for the city's annual June budget vote.
"These unexpected funds provide us with a crucial opportunity to... stabilize Portland," said Wheeler, "while the upstream investments we made earlier this year—and that we’ll continue to make—take shape."