Portland's still closing a $21.5 million budget hole. But Mayor Charlie Hales has found a way to take the sting out of some of the more unpopular cuts he'd put on the table when he unveiled his budget late last month.
Under a revised plan previewed for a "scrum" of reporters and city hall staffers this afternoon, Hales announced he'd be keeping around a smaller police Mounted Patrol Unit, using unspent levy money to keep alive Buckman Pool and the Sellwood Community Center, partially funding human trafficking and youth shelter services, and finding new money for parks maintenance. He's also keeping tree planting inside the Bureau of Environmental Services, a nod to environmentalists worried BES was backtracking into a mere sewers bureau.
Hales said he's been listening at public hearings, where residents have lined up to demand reprieves for their favored programs. He's taking advantage of new money scared up after the city won a lawsuit over its landline phone tax last year and new savings captured from state pension reform and a reduction in planned raises for some city employees. And, also important, he's relying on heavy offers of community donations and reserves from funds outside the city's operating budget.
"Public hearings matter," Hales said. "And when people show up in the city of Portland and have something to say about the community, this city council listens. And we endeavor to take that into account."
Hales has been entertaining a series of changes in the days before his revised proposal becomes official. He struck a deal with Multnomah County Chairman Jeff Cogen last Thursday that preserves other safety net programs meant for the chopping block, including the county's Crisis Assessment and Treatment Center.
And Monday, the fire bureau announced a deal with Hales that will tweak his plan to swap out engines and/or trucks at four stations with lighter-staffed rapid-response vehicles. Hales says the bureau will use the RRVs to augment staffing at busy bureaus and achieve cuts by deploying hybrid firetrucks called "quints." Hales said the city will mothball old trucks in case of an emergency.
The deal for the mounted patrol, though, was perhaps the most perplexing in city hall. Friends of Portland's Mounted Patrol have led a full-court press to save the unit, but even with that pressure, sources say Hales had more than enough votes in hand to do away with the unit. Instead, he's embracing an offer by the Friends boosters to raise $200,000 this year and next to pay for upkeep.
"We're gonna make a little hay here," Hales joked.
The unit's hay provider, Maxson, will pay for a year of hay (the source of Hales' joke). And Chief Mike Reese, despite putting the horse unit on his cut list, is shifting officers around to keep it staffed, but with two fewer riders. Curiously, the bureau will take someone from the training division, even though the bureau is in the midst of teaching to new use of force standards mandated by a federal settlement.
• Two officer positions are eliminated
• One sergeant position is transferred from property crimes to the Mounted Patrol Unit, or MPU
• Two officer positions transferred from personnel division to MPU
• One officer position transferred from training division to MPU
• One officer position transferred from complaint signer/detectives division to MPU
• 2.5 non-sworn positions transferred from non-sworn positions currently vacant to MPU
Other clever money is keeping alive Buckman Pool, a perennial target. Hales is tapping unspent revenue from a parks levy to keep the pool open until the city figures out how to build a community center at Washington High School. He's using the same source to keep Sellwood's community center open for another year. Grant money, meanwhile, is also being diverted to trafficking services.
Hales also announced that the city's voluntary retirement program has been successful, encouraging 73 city workers to leave early in exchange for health care payments. Seventeen of those seeking the package are from the police bureau, the most of any city bureau.
And he signaled that his deal with the county was only the start of a restructuring that's far more substantial. He held firm in not paying for a district attorney's post when the county is adding one, too.
"They're adding positions. We're subtracting them. We're not gonna pay for them."
He said there was a bigger picture in play.
"The negotiation over the budget emergences of the moment just highlight what a patchwork of shared funding we have between the city and the county," he said. "We're really interested in digging into those questions, who does what. Let's figure out what our lanes are and how to stay in them."
Get the best of the Mercury each week in your inbox!