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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Sorry, Charlie! Council Okays $2.388 Million in New Cuts

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Wed, Nov 7, 2012 at 10:59 AM

How's that hangover, Mayor-elect Charlie Hales?

With revenues already falling a bit short in Portland's delicately crafted 2012-13 operating budget, Portland City Council this morning unanimously approved $2.388 million in new budget cuts. The money comes out of budgets immediately, but bureaus will be able to spend the next several weeks sifting through their budgets to determine precisely where the cuts will land.

Most of that money will come from the Office of Management and Finance, which serves twin roles as city government's support staff and budget-planning shop. After taking a big hit during the spring budget dance, OMF now faces an additional 6.4 percent cut. The city's police, fire, and 911 bureaus will face only .33 percent reductions, about half of what every other city bureau and office will take.

Some of those cuts also will help pay for $725,808 in new spending tied to programs previously approved by the council. The parks bureau will get $244,000 to help pay for a new program putting rangers in downtown parks instead of private security. Lines for Life, which opened a new suicide response hotline for Portland, is getting $150,000 as promised. And the housing bureau will receive $34,000 to beef up enforcement of fair housing laws and help more veterans find housing.

"The way we've budgeted," says our current mayor, Sam Adams, "is to keep our budgets balanced as we proceed through a fiscal year."

That's not getting any easier. The general fund, after another vote today, will also now pay for part of a Willamette River cleanup project. It also will repay water bureau customers for millions in special-project costs, over the next 10 years, that wound up the target of an expensive lawsuit and a scathing city audit. Adams also is looking to find millions for federally mandated police reforms—$3.5 million in new annual costs.

Meanwhile, voters just approved a county library district that will sap several million more from the city's tax receipts. And that's not accounting for what's looking like a continuing lag in overall city revenues. An Oregonian story sounded the alarm about a total gap next year upward of $20 million.

Update 2:25 PM: The Oregonian, citing Multnomah County Chair Jeff Cogen, is reporting an agreement that will blunt some of the library district's compression costs by allowing the city to reduce, and defer, payments its promised for the new Sellwood Bridge. Savings could add up to $18 million over a couple of years.

The timing makes sense. City hall sources tell me that Adams and his staffers have been working frantically this week to plug some of the larger holes looming in the city's budget—and shore up their boss's legacy as a prudent budget doctor. A budget workshop is scheduled for this Tuesday, November 13, and both current and future city council members will be able to ask questions and dig into the specifics. Hence, the mayor's office would naturally be keen on presenting a dramatically brighter picture than the gloom this post mentions./end update

"We have to be very mindful of an upcoming budget year that looks very difficult," Commissioner Dan Saltzman said of approving some cuts now. "This will make it a little more tractable to deal with."

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