AN UGLY NUMBER was finally attached to the "appropriately grim" budget warning that Mayor Sam Adams issued way back in October. To keep Portland's operating fund out of the red for the next five years, the city's general fund must find $17.4 million in ongoing cuts by next spring.

That scenario—presented to the city council as part of a five-year budget forecast last Wednesday, December 7—amounts to a little more than four percent of all current spending. But while much rosier than Adams' worst-case scenarios for cuts ["Down to the Bone," News, Oct 13], it's still too deep to ignore.

Core city services like community centers and parks and public safety will all take substantial hits. Even worse? Starting in 2013, financial planners say the city will have to abandon its favorite budget cheat: Funding permanent programs, every year, with millions in so-called "one-time" funding.

It's called the "shadow budget," and in the current fiscal year, the city relied on it to pay for, among other things, fire station operations, graffiti abatement, homeless shelters, and mental health crisis workers.

Commissioner Nick Fish noted at council that one-time money "disproportionately" funds the city's many safety-net programs. He said the council will be pitting even deeper cuts to bedrock services like parks and public safety against cash for preserving safety-net programs.

"We're coming to a point when that may not be sustainable," Fish said.

Financial Planning Manager Andrew Scott agreed: "That strategy is certainly at risk."

The figures are still preliminary and may improve, or get worse, before budget season really bears down next spring. Bureaus over the winter will use the data from the forecast to begin preparing cuts.

Budget officials say property tax growth has been vastly slower than expected, accounting for most of the cuts, and that they are also accounting for some of the uncertainty affecting the global and national economies.

Fish's parks bureau has already released a preliminary plan for $1.7 million in cuts. The biggest include no more park restrooms, and the closings of Fulton Park Community Center and Buckman Pool. The Oregonian recently reported that the police bureau is contemplating $6 million in cuts, mostly by implementing a hiring freeze and making cops work five eight-hour days instead of four 10-hour days.