There are some very obvious reasons why Portland is facing what's been put at (for now) a $25 million budget deficit. One of them is the new county library district, which the city estimates will cost $10 million because of property tax compression. Another is the yet-to-be finalized federal settlement with the Portland Police Bureau over its use of force, expected to cost close to $5 million.
Others, meanwhile, are entirely subtle—but very revealing about the difficult predicament the city finds itself in after years of cuts. A chart from the City Budget Office, requested by the Mercury, points out one of those factors: something called (get ready for some wonkiness) "city bureau underspending."
To tread water while losing millions every year, city bureaus have spending more of their allotted piles of cash year, eating into cushions of money meant to keep them out of the red in the case of unexpected catastrophes or sudden bursts of overtime (like what the police bureau got itself into during Occupy Portland). City economists used to count on rolling over a certain amount of that leftover cash. They're now counting on it less and less.
The current year could be even worse, thanks, in part, to a budget solution crafted by former Mayor Sam Adams. To scare up $2 million\, Adams and the city council told bureaus that they had to immediately hand back money they saved whenever a job went vacant during the course of the year. Those savings normally would help fill a bureau's end-of-year cash cushion and help make next year's budget not so bad. No longer. Adams' plan, essentially, borrowed against it. Which could make that sharp downward slope in the chart all the worse.
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