Benjamin Brink

Portland Parks and Recreation (PPR) has become the first city department to announce mass layoffs due to the coronavirus' economic fallout.

As of April 1, the city has laid off a total of 950 part-time park employees: 750 staff members who were actively working for PPR and 200 seasonal workers who were relying on future paychecks.

Many of these employees worked at city facilities that have been shuttered to prevent the spread of COVID-19, effectively eradicating their jobs as lifeguards, fitness trainers, art instructors, and other community-centric roles.

PPR is estimated to lose $900,000 in revenue due to these closures, which are—for now—in place until April 28. According to PPR spokesperson Tim Collier, the department may make at least 50 more layoffs of part-time workers. However, Collier wrote in an email to the Mercury, "No decisions have been made about reductions in PP&R’s regular-status workforce."

Tom Rinehart, the city's chief administrative officer, assured the same in an email to city staff yesterday announcing the layoffs.

"Understandably, this news will raise questions and concerns for other staff," Rinehart wrote. "No decisions have been made about reductions in the city’s permanent, regular-status workforce. Directors are working closely with the City Budget Office to forecast the impacts of this crisis on our financial future."

Rinehart stressed that the city's revenue streams are different than those relied on by Metro, the regional government body that laid off 40 percent of its workforce last week. Unlike Portland, Metro's budget relies heavily on revenue coming in from facilities where large numbers of people gather, like the Oregon Convention Center, the Oregon Expo Center, the Portland’5 Centers for the Performing Arts and the Oregon Zoo. All of those spaces have been temporarily closed to slow the spread of COVID-19.

While PPR relies on public gatherings more than most city departments, city staffers are expecting revenue losses across bureaus. The city's currently overhauling its 2020-2021 budget proposals—which were already drafted before the COVID-19 pandemic—and says that other staff layoffs will be a part of that discussion. According to Mayor Ted Wheeler's office, Wheeler is still on schedule to present his proposed budget to city commissioners on April 27.

The parks layoffs come less than a year after city commissioners made the painful decision to cut 56 full-time PPR jobs from the city's 2019-2020 budget.

Rinehart pledged transparency to staff as his office continued to weigh the city's financial standing.

"Please know that City leaders value each of you and the work you do," he wrote. "We will be looking for innovative ways to make the most of the resources we have."