Mayor Charlie Hales hasn't been especially cozy with the city's big three public safety unions since taking office. He's lined up political support for major cuts in the city's police and fire bureaus while, at the same time, making a play to de-certify the union representing police lieutenants, captains, and commanders.
Muttering about the budget cuts has been mostly quiet and behind the scenes. (Mostly.) But Hales' move against the Portland Police Commanding Officers Association (PPCOA)—claiming that police supervisors are, well, supervisors and shouldn't be allowed to unionize under state law—is attracting some serious heat. Never mind that the PPCOA has been in some awkward spots over the past few months.
In a rare show of solidarity (not really seen since a group of unions all got together and pointedly decided, in December 2011, not to endorse Hales or his two rivals for mayor), six union leaders sent a letter to city council urging city commissioners to publicly challenge the mayor and not let him take down the PPCOA without a fight. It helps that there are rumblings Hales might look to do the same to Portland Fire Fighters Association—which has nominally supervisory employees in its ranks.
The letter (pdf), obtained by the Mercury and signed by the fire union, the District Council of Trade Unions, AFSCME, COPPEA, and both city police unions, PPCOA and the Portland Police Association, (PPA) spares no feelings by comparing Hales directly with union-busting Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.
It was pretty early, this post telling you to put on KBOO this morning and listen to host Joe Meyer talk with little old me about last night's
full measure of election results thorough flogging of water fluoridation. So maybe you missed it. I get it. Wednesday mornings are tough.
But it's online now—and it makes for a nice, punchy back-and-forth. Just in time for your lunch hour!
Oh, and for the record, not a single fluoridation supporter called in. Like, zero. I figured maybe one of you 40 percenters might. But nope. You did not. We did hear a lot from people who think I'm corrupt/lazy/naive/stupid. And also from some people who pointed out that eating fluoridated toothpaste in great quantities is ill-advised.
(I confessed that as a kid I ate far more than a "pea-size" daub of the stuff on more than one occasion, because I liked Aqua Fresh, and never once had to call the poison hotline; maybe you'll say that's why I joined our endorsement of fluoridation.)
Anyway. Thanks! I had fun! And it wasn't nearly as awful as this commenter earlier today made it out to be.
Peace has largely reigned over Portland's budget process this year. Despite filling a $21.5 million budget gap, Mayor Charlie Hales has tried to deliver what good news he could to safety net advocates and parks boosters and others, even as he's proposed big cuts to the police and fire bureaus.
And there has been curiously little public pushback against those public safety cuts. Neither residents nor groups like the Portland Business Alliance have lined up to decry the pending loss of 50-plus sworn police positions and
26 firefighters. 38 fire bureau workers, including 26 from the bureau's battalions.
Behind the scenes, that's not quite the case—especially when it comes to the fire bureau. A memo (pdf) obtained by the Mercury—essentially a script for Hales to follow during a meeting Tuesday morning with the Portland Fire Fighters Association—reveals intense deliberations in private over the best way to meet Hales' goal of saving money without maybe having to lay off so many firefighters.
The memo also expands on simmering discontent with managing another of Hales' main goals: swapping in two-person rapid response vehicles, designed to handle medical calls, in place of four-person fire engines and ladder trucks. PFFA President Alan Ferschweiler wrote a stinging op-ed in the Oregonian on Monday criticizing the mayor's initial attempt at the change. Later that day, Fire Chief Erin Janssens leaked to the O a plan that would ameliorate some of the fire union's concerns, something that came up in the meeting.
I've left a message for Ferschweiler, and I'll update with his comments when they come.
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.
In a move that bodes well for future working ties between the leaders of the region's two most important governing bodies, Mayor Charlie Hales and Multnomah County Chairman Jeff Cogen this afternoon set aside differences that had flared in recent weeks and unveiled a budget agreement meant to preserve a handful of endangered social services programs.
The deal reportedly came together quite rapidly—and after a great deal of pushing by city and county commissioners who had been concerned by what loomed as an awkward standoff. Some staffers hadn't even heard all the details when reached by the Mercury. It was also something of a surprise to commissioners.
"I went out for Thai food and when I came back, they had an agreement," Commissioner Steve Novick says. "I should go out for Thai food more often."
In a year that saw the two governments trade places, with the city making deep cuts (to solve a $21.5 million deficit) and the county holding its own (thanks to last fall's library district vote), the two leaders had been attempting to take tough stands in the name of principle.
"Both of us appreciate the collaborative spirit of our discussions to help the city deal with the budget shortfall it faces this year," Hales and Cogen said in a joint statement first revealed by Cogen's office on Twitter. "We are optimistic this spirit will be a model for our future discussions. The good news today is that we have reached an agreement that will benefit our entire community."
According to data provided by Hales' office, both governments agreed to split the cost of three county SUN schools the city had been paying for, but wanted to stop funding. The county is picking up a needle exchange program, senior recreation services, and helping to pay for the regions' one-stop domestic violence shelter. It's also paying the city for the city's efforts collecting business income taxes.
The city, in turn, will continue to pay $634,000 for the next year to fund its share of operating costs for the Crisis Assessment and Treatment Center—something that emerged as a lightning rod in the burgeoning budget debate, especially after Cogen fired some harsh barbs at Hales over his decision to pull funding.
The city appears to be agreeing to spend a bit more than Hales had initially proposed when he unveiled his budget last month. The two governments aren't trading money so much as they're picking up programs both prized but that had been zeroed out. Advocates for many of those programs were expected to crowd a budget forum tonight at city hall.
· Funds CATC one-time ($634,107 cost)
· Funds half of the SUN Schools pass-through (adding back 1.5 schools for $136,000 cost)
· Further reduces senior center pass-through ($141,454 savings)
· Gets County agreement for additional BIT collection ($200,000 savings)
· Funds the remaining SUN pass-through ($135,000)
· Funds the domestic violence cuts ($64,300 plus $77,000 for victim’s advocate position that was previously one-time funded, total of $141,300)
· Funds needle exchange ($65,000)
· Funds some of the senior center pass-through that was cut, but not all (about $282k
City and county relations have been hot and cold in recent years, but mostly cold. Cogen and former Mayor Sam Adams were known to have a contentious relationship, even as individual commissioners and bureaucrats got along well. The county has long kvetched about Portland's penchant for passing urban renewal districts, which wall off property tax dollars that otherwise would fill the county coffers in the short term, under the promise that improved neighborhoods will one day pay dividends.
Earlier today, we told you about lingering problems with city's overloaded arts tax website (the $35 tax was supposed to be due yesterday) and the still-uncertain deadline for procrastinators who have yet to square up.
The city just sent out another update confirming that payment will now be accepted into next week, in person or online, but that the website won't be ready for another couple of days. Read it here:
Wednesday night, the City’s website experienced a problem related to the overwhelming response of Portlanders paying their Arts Tax. As a result, people were not able to pay their tax that afternoon and evening. Wednesday was the original deadline for payment.
The City has extended the Arts Tax deadline.
The online payment option will be brought back next week, as will an announcement of the new deadline. Currently, the Arts Tax cannot be paid over the Internet, but can be paid in person or by mailing in a check or money order. Forms can be found here.
The City has also extended the deadline to pay in person or by mail, simply to keep the deadlines together and to create simplicity for taxpayers.
The online payment option will remain offline for the next few days as city technical personnel implement measures to limit the number of concurrent filers on the site at any one time. This will ensure that usage does not exceed the system capacity and allow people to pay their Arts Tax online. Once implemented, when the site reaches capacity, the user will receive notification that the site is currently unavailable and to try back later. Technical staff will also be working on increasing the overall capacity of the payment site.
I've also asked, under admonishing from commenters, how this latest snafu affects collection and administrative costs that are supposed to be kept under 5 percent of collections. I'll update if and when I hear back.
Last night, you'll recall, enough people tried to pay Portland's $35-an-income-earner arts tax just before the midnight deadline that the city's payment website apparently collapsed under the strain.
The Office of Management and Finance and Mayor Charlie Hales' office both sent out statements last night saying the deadline would be extended indefinitely while the problem with the website was fixed.
Hales' spokesman, Dana Haynes (probably tired of writing releases and statements about the arts tax), has sent word this morning that the problem with the website has not yet been fixed.
Wednesday night, the city’s website experienced a problem related to the overwhelming response of Portlanders paying their Arts Tax. The computer problem is being addressed this morning. The city has extended the Arts Tax deadline, and will maintain that extension until this problem is resolved. We appreciate everyone’s patience and hope to have further details later today.
Keep your debit cards handy. And we'll holler when we hear something.
The arts tax originally due April 15 was supposed to due by 7 pm tonight, if you were paying in person, or midnight if you went online to the city's website. That deadline has been now been extended. Again. Because the city's website wasn't equipped to handle the onslaught of last-minute payers.
Says the city's Office of Management Finance, which oversees the Bureau of Revenue, which oversees the arts tax:
Due to the overwhelming response of Portlanders paying their Arts Tax, the City's website is experiencing a capacity issue.
We are working on the situation. At this point the deadline to pay the Arts Tax will be extended until the problem is resolved. We appreciate everyone's patience with this situation.
On a high usage day the website will see about 230 concurrent users. Throughout the day we have been experiencing approximately double that number just on the Arts Tax website alone.
It's a fitting turn on the would-be last day for legal payment of the tax.
Previously, city officials announced the arts tax, as of noon today, had only collected $6 million out of the $8.6 million expected by the end of the fiscal year. Then there was the problem with the public pension and Social Security collections. And the new $1,000 income minimum, which forced the initial deadline extension. Oh, and besides all of that, the $35-per-income-earner tax is the subject of lawsuits claiming it's really an unconstitutional head tax, forcing an awkward workaround with schools counting on their share of proceeds.
Two other points are worth noting. The arts tax passed with 62 percent support from voters (and, yes, we endorsed it; it's still a worthy idea in principle). And Commissioner Dan Saltzman has made the Revenue staff promise not to send bill collectors after scofflaws until they miss at least two years of payments. (But pay anyway, because it's the law.)
Budget negotiations are well underway in Portland City Hall—although, by most accounts, with less intrigue and cloak-and-dagger than in previous years. That's because Mayor Charlie Hales made a lot of people happy with his budget plan, announced April 30—cutting public safety bureaus to pay for safety net programs and front-end services like parks (except for Buckman Pool). That reveal came after he involved city commissioners in his work to an unprecedented degree. Thusly, for a lot of observers, there's not much to fundamentally quibble with.
But not much is not the same as nothing. Hales thought he'd deliver on campaign rhetoric—and please activists and business interests—by lowering planned increases in the city's water, sewers, and stormwater rates. The mayor did that partly by cutting money for needs like watershed management and then shifting the work from the Bureau of Environmental Services back to bureaus by the city's general fund.
That gesture, it turns out, has pleased few people. Water rate activists wonder why Hales didn't cut rates instead of reducing increases. And today, in city council, environmentalists accused the mayor of stripping away environmental work that brought United Nations' laurels to Portland earlier this year. (They echoed some of the concerns Commissioner Amanda Fritz raised when I spoke to her just hours after Hales unveiled his budget.)
"We believe this budget takes us back 25 years—both in substance and in philosophy," said Bob Sallinger, conservation director of the Audubon Society of Portland, "back to the time when the city had a sewer agency and the the city didn't have an environmental agency."
What gives, you might ask? Then maybe you've forgotten Charlie Hales and his wife, Nancy, were supposed to be entrants in a local charity version of Dancing With the Stars. Nancy Hales is particularly on point—loose enough to twirl while also getting into character. The mayor has a natty outfit and isn't so awful himself.
Hales' spokesman, Dana Haynes, says his boss took a lot of tango lessons. He hadn't seen the video either.
"Dude, he’s good. I just watched it for the first time and have aspirated coffee all over my keyboard."
Legal challenges and other problems besieging the arts tax enthusiastically approved by voters last fall have cast a cloud over the program's signature promise: millions to help local school districts staff up with arts teachers.
Treading lightly in the face of lawsuits calling the $35 tax an unconstitutional head tax, Mayor Charlie Hales announced this year he wouldn't be handing out any of the money promised to schools or arts organizations. Hales fretted over the nightmare of having to refund taxpayers in case the city loses—even though some districts, like Portland Public Schools, had already built the expected revenue into their upcoming budgets.
But today, Hales responded to that pushback and announced a major compromise. Hales offered to distribute up to half of the estimated $6 million scheduled to be distributed this November—$3 million—"pending favorable rulings or settlements" on the two lawsuits challenging the tax.
To make that pencil out, if the city loses and has to hand back the money it's collected, he's putting the risk on three pots of money, grabbing $1 million each from (1) the $3 million contingency fund he's proposed for his next budget, (2) the city's future appropriations to the Regional Arts & Culture Council, and (3) a pot of reserve money put up by the six districts benefiting from the tax: PPS, Centennial, David Douglas, Parkrose, Reynolds, and Riverdale.
“The superintendents and I have been working to find a way to be true to the taxpayers, whose money this is, and to the voters, who approved the arts tax,” Hales said in a statement. “We think this does it.”
Hales' office notes that though districts like PPS had been planning to spend the money, others were banking it to see how the grappling over the tax shakes out.
“We are not in the business of telling superintendents how to run their districts,” Hales also said in a statement. “These decisions have been tough to reach, but it’s been a combined effort all along, and we’re grateful to the arts community and our school districts for working with us to find a practical solution. In the end, getting teachers in our classrooms will pay dividends for generations to come.”
Last week, Hales announced a change in the arts tax after the city attorney's office decided it wasn't allowed, after all, to tax Social Security and state pension income. That wasn't clear when the tax was proposed and approved. Previously, Hales asked council to approve a $1,000 income minimum. A review of changes, also commissioned by Hales, is due by July.
Anyone who makes $1,000 in private income a year, so long as their household is above the federal poverty line, is obligated to pay. The deadline is Wednesday—after it was extended from April 15.
Read the full release after the jump.
A Multnomah County judge managed to rain down bad news on both CenturyLink and the Oregonian editorial board today—upholding an incremental land-line phone tax proposed by former Mayor Sam Adams (and loathed by the O) to help pay for police reforms put forward by the US Department of Justice.
CenturyLink had been hoping the courts would shut down the tax—approved unanimously by the Portland City Council last fall despite lobbyists' concern for senior citizens (who don't use cell phones), furtive threats of legal action, and a creepy robocall campaign by the Taxpayer Association of Oregon.
Under Adams' plan, Frontier and CenturyLink are now subject to the same tax revenue formula as every other landline provider in town. Frontier and CenturyLink had been paying taxes only on their basic voice plans, at 7 percent of revenues. They'll now pay 5 percent on all revenues—a smaller rate, but on a broader base of income—an increase that could bring Portland $3 million to $5 million a year.
CenturyLink, filing under the name Qwest and represented by high-powered law firm Stoel Rives, argued the tax was unfair because of other fees it already pays the city. It's also argued the city should similarly target wireless companies, which dominate the phone market and don't pay the same taxes land-line operators do.
Judge Henry Breithaupt had other ideas in his ruling (pdf), siding with the city and its argument that a 1997 case in Eugene on a similar dispute gave it legal cover. It's not clear yet whether CenturyLink will appeal Breithaupt's ruling.
"CenturyLink is disappointed with the court’s decision today and continues to believe that the city’s proposed fees on local telephone companies are in conflict with applicable state and federal restrictions," Chris Denzin, CenturyLink's vice president and general manager for Oregon and Southwest Washington, said in a statement. "CenturyLink continues to be committed to protecting our customers’ interests, and is considering its options, but has no further comment pending a review of the court’s decision."
The uncertainty surrounding this tax revenue probably played some role in Mayor Charlie Hales' decision to seek a $3 million council contingency fund next year. I'll update when I hear back from Hales' office with their reaction to the ruling. Even if the tax isn't further appealed, I don't expect Hales will back down from his decision to keep the piggy bank densely packed.
Update 4:46 PM: Hales' office is obviously pleased with the ruling. But Hales' spokesman, Dana Haynes, has confirmed my suspicions about the contingency plan. At least, related to this issue.
"The mayor plans no change in his recommended contingency, which, if approved, still would be less than 1 percent of the general fund."
No one should be too surprised that Mayor Charlie Hales has decided to deviate from a posted schedule that had him handing back, right about now, all the bureaus he took from his colleagues in February as part of his new-look budget process—something the Oregonian has definitively reported this morning.
Hales made the move to promote citywide thinking about the budget (and maybe hold some leverage when corralling votes for his preferred version of it), and it always struck me as strange that the handover would happen before council finished haggling with Hales. And it would be strange, but he's not doing it.
But the O piece, by city hall reporter Brad Schmidt, caught my eye for a different reason: It handicapped where the bureaus will land. You'll remember we had city hall staffers make their very own guesses in a survey we published in January. Schmidt's take is "unsubstantiated," he writes, but it's a pretty good look at the possibilities.
Here's my take, blatantly stealing from Schmidt's format, since playing along seemed like a good idea when I started writing this post.
For those keeping score at home, yet another strange problem with Portland's well-intentioned-but-troubled arts tax has come to light. This time, says Mayor Charlie Hales' office, it's that the city has been collecting its $35 from people living off state pension and/or Social Security checks—income sources the city is technically barred from considering for tax purposes.
And that means the city now must figure how out how to pay some of that money back. The snafu affects anyone who relies on entitlements and—crucially—didn't also earn more than $1,000 in eligible income from a part-time job or what have you. That $1,000 income threshold, approved in March, was the first big change for the arts tax. Hales is commissioning a broader review of changes, due this summer.
“This arts tax puts us in a bind,” Hales said in a statement. “We want to be true to voters, who approved it in November. We have to be good stewards of taxpayers’ money. And we want to support the public schools and arts community. These problems – which stem from the way the tax was written – make it difficult to meet all those goals.”
The city's revenue bureau isn't sure how many people qualify for the refund. Revenue Director Thomas Lannom, however, says $4.25 million has been collected so far. With eight days before the new May 15 deadline, that's about half of what officials said they expected to collect for the tax's first fiscal year.
The arts tax was approved by 61 percent of voters and is expected, pending legal challenges, to pay for school arts teachers and also help nonprofits and arts institutions expand access for low-income kids and other free programs.
Mayor Charlie Hales' bid to pull the city's share of funding for Multnomah County's Crisis Assessment and Treatment Center—a 16-bed facility billed as a resource for police officers—has clearly irked County Chairman Jeff Cogen and even raised questions from at least one city commissioner, Amanda Fritz.
The status of the CATC, as the Mercury first reported in January, has been something of a sore spot between Cogen's office and the city, which spends $600,000 a year to help operate the facility even though its officers have yet to directly drop anyone there in the nearly two years it's been open.
And while Cogen has vowed to lobby Hales to reverse the proposal—calling himself "shocked" and "stunned" and reminding everyone about the federal government's lawsuit against the police bureau over its rough treatment of the mentally ill—he may not get his wish.
An email sent to Hales' office this week reveals the mayor's staff is pushing ahead with other plans for a walk-in-style crisis center for people with mental illness that presumably would receive city funding instead. That email, sent by Jason Renaud of the Mental Health Association of Portland, goes so far as to counsel the mayor's office "no worries" over the pullback from the CATC.
"About the CATC. No worries from the mental health advocacy community on that one," Renaud wrote to Baruti Artharee, Hales' public safety director, in an email obtained through a public records request. "Telecare [the company that runs the CATC for the county] did nothing for us except cash your checks.
The place was clean and quiet and the patients there felt safe—but it was also empty a lot of the time and unresponsive to the initial needs of the community."
Further, an internal police memo (pdf) obtained by the Mercury—drafted in May 2012 by Captain Sara Westbrook, recently installed as head of the bureau's new behavioral health unit—shows that police bureau's complaints about the CATC's admissions rules had been known for months before our story revealed the dysfunction between the two agencies. That memo appears to be the source of a statement the bureau sent to the Mercury after our story ran.
Today, we can point you to a Facebook group that really likes Mayor Charlie Hales' proposal to get rid of the popular (and occasionally unnerving) horses and save the city $1.1 million. This one's called the Coalition for Alternatives to Mounted Police. Some of its supporters include people who supported a never-considered charter amendment that would have banned the use of police horses during protests.
And how's it doing? It's only got 50 likes. For now! But more interestingly, it also has seven reasons why mounted patrols aren't a good idea. One of those reasons mentions the several decades between the Depression and 1979 in which the police bureau went without a horse unit. Hit the jump and take a look at the rest.
As the Mercury first reported in January, though the city and county planned and built the facility specifically as a mental health resource for police, the cops have yet to take a single person there in the nearly two years it's been open. Losing the money will force the CATC to give up five of its beds—which translates to losing help for an expected 200 people over the fiscal year.
The police bureau has complained that rules limiting who can be taken to the facility (someone must be stable and lack private insurance) pose too many "obstacles" for cops. The bureau prefers a much more expensive drop-off center where officers don't have to call ahead or spend any time helping with intake. City commissioners and the mayor appear to have been swayed by that argument, which the county has rejected as the cops looking for "convenience" instead of good public policy. The recommendation came in a report submitted to Hales by Commissioners Steve Novick and Nick Fish.
“The notion that the police bureau is convincing people to disinvest in a facility that provides a safe place for people in a mental health crisis is unbelievable,” Cogen says. “This is a bureau that's being sued by the federal government."
Significantly, it keeps open all fire stations. And it appears to mark a major victory for the safety net campaign working to protect social services and housing programs. City-operated SUN schools will stay open, and city funding for the CHIERS van and Hooper Detox center will remain in place.
Other highlights? The city's getting a larger contingency fund: $3 million.
"It's not a shoebox of money but it's a real emergency fund," Hales says. "That's why it's there."
And utility rate increases (for water and sewers) will be kept to a combined increase of less than 5 percent—down from 7.8 percent hikes proposed by each bureau. The mayor also delivered on a pledge to minimize layoffs of newly hired cops, finding onetime bridge funding to let the bureau reduce with vacancies.
He's also keeping school resources officers and keeping most of the property crimes unit in place.
"We're not going to be able to keep our horse patrol unit, as much as we all love it."
The mayor says his goal was to craft a "humane but responsible" budget. He's also hitting on his goal of getting his fellow commissioners to serve as a "board of directors"—highlighting their work in finding savings in overtime and in reductions to management-level staffers.
"We're directing the fire bureau to make more use of four person rescue units. They're staffed with two EMTs, not four," Hales says. "That will make a much better result for our neighborhoods and move the fire bureau into its core business, which is medical response."
He's also signaling the need for more work with the county.
"There are a number of programs that are shared between the city and the county," Hales says.
Update 11:25 PM: KGW asks why this is all "austerity." Hales says he's tapping, responsibly, some of the city's reserve fund. "We're coming out of a difficult recession," Hales says on revenue. "This doesn't feel to me the time for a general tax increase in the city of Portland."
Those are his closing remarks.
Update 11:23 PM: "I'd have liked them to be zero," Hales says when asked about water and sewer rate increases. Hales also says he doesn't fret for the safety of the city based on his proposed cuts.
"They're navigation documents," he says of budgets. "I've started taking it personally... I never thought that I'd do that. Every single line item is important. These are real people we'll be laying off. These are real services we won't be doing."
Update 11:20 PM: "You can't cut" other bureaus that much without cutting police and fire bureaus. "The principle of shared sacrifice applied to all bureaus," Hales says. This year's budget marks a shift from past budgets, when police and firefighters were spared pain historically spread around, at a deeper level, to other bureaus. Hales says these cuts won't hurt patrol staffing and won't damage progress, as he sees it, in the bureau's attempts to mend its relationship with the community.
Update 11:18 PM: The final number of layoffs, thanks to vacancies, could be under 100. Hales is highlighting housing budget wins: women's shelters and the Clark Center, foreclosure counseling and other programs are in. It's close to the $1.1 million in add backs the Housing Bureau wanted from the general fund.
Update 11:16 PM: Bureaus did a good job of separating "nice tos" and got tos," Hales says to a question from Aaron Mesh on "Washington Monuments"—programs bureaus historically suggest knowing they'll never be whacked.
If Commissioner Steve Novick had his way, because he's such a kidder, Mayor Charlie Hales would start off his State of the City speech with a quip: "The city is in a state." Hales is good with a quote. But the mayor won't do that. His speech, as teased a bit by the Oregonian at 6 this morning, is expected to stick close to the staid and serious themes we've been hearing ever since Hales was on the stump.
Basic services. Police accountability. Fiscal discipline. Finding ways for Portland to shape the state's and metro area's schools budgets. Et cetera—and a lot of the ground covered in our oral history of the mayor's (almost) first 100 days. He's expected to tip his hand a bit on the his plan for a city budget, which he'll unveil on Tuesday—which is one reason why this year's speech is a bit later than some others.
Of course, like all mayoral speeches, hosted by City Club at the Governor Hotel, Hales' appearance has attracted a packed house of politicians and bureaucrats and functionaries. They're all eating right now. He hasn't started talking yet. We'll be updating once he does! And follow @dirquez and @portlandmercury on Twitter.
Update 1:15 PM: Aaand he's done. And an ovation. And one "whoo!"
Update 1:14 PM: Should we save the police horses? Hales says he won't tip his hand but warned that in "some cases we'll have to stop doing things we like." Hales mentions the tradeoff for the police bureau if cops remain assigned to the mounted patrol.
Update 1:12 PM: And a very interesting question on homelessness and sidewalks. He's echoing the Portland Business Alliance. "We also have to have civility on the streets," Hales says. "We don't have that balance right yet. It's causing an economic problem and a livability problem." Hales also nodded to a street count showing 1,700 people on the streets and called that "unacceptable." Expect attention after the budget. BIG applause.
Update 1:11 PM: Is the greenway work in South Waterfront going to be done? Or is it just the ICE immigrant jail no one wanted. "The greenway will be built," Hales says, with one more grab at the "social contract." But he says it'll take development, which will serve as the engine to pay for that trail. The questioner didn't care for that.
Update 1:07 PM: Hales says it was great that hundreds of people came out to stump for priorities at budget hearings. But the city needs to do more to rethink it's advocacy and outreach to and with neighborhoods, something more formal: more young people, more recent arrivals, more nonprofits.
Update 1:05 PM: Talk now of Portland's "exotic businesses" and whether we lead the nation per capita. Member is asking Hales to discuss the city's approach to those businesses, to keep kids away, and to combat human trafficking" "Local governments are very limited in its ability" to crack down on adult businesses. He's using that to segue into a complaint that the Oregon Liquor Control Commission isn't letting Portland combat late hours for bar patios. (This may also apply to potential support for a bill that would get Portland back to its days of "sit-lie" rules.)
"There's an ongoing tension between the city and the Legislature," Hales says. "We will be advocating for more local control. We'll take the heat. Give us the tools to do our job and do it differently in Portland. Portland may be joined with Prineville in school funding, but we're very different places. We want that authority."
Two seemingly minor and unconnected items on the upcoming Portland City Council agenda are worth noting this week, mostly because they concern subjects everyone has at least some kind of opinion about: Parking. And... shit.
First the parking! In the next step for Portland's ongoing plan to frustrate annoying/clever drivers who park in the Central Eastside Business District and hoof it over a bridge to beat downtown meter costs, the city is looking to raise the amount it charges for all-day permits (pdf) in the zone.
If approved, neighbors and businesses hoping to park all day at nearly 5,000 on-street spaces would pay $70 a year, up from $60. The $10 surcharge is a tiny one. sought by the neighborhood's business group, is meant to help fund an advisory committee charged with overseeing all other parking reforms in the zone, including new meters on MLK and Grand.
And now the poop! After years of tolerating scofflaws who let their idiot dogs run free at parks and terrorize people, as well as the countless oafs who can't be bothered to be pick up their dogs' stinky brown leavings, the city's parks bureau wants to give park rangers permission to punish the wicked with civil fines as big as $150 (pdf).
The city used to pay Multnomah County Animal Services $70,000 a year to help police poop-and-leash violators. But it stopped the contract because of budget cuts. Revenue from the fines is expected to help pay for four part-time rangers and someone to run the new enforcement program (a total of $100,000). Right now, rangers aren't allowed to write tickets—just issue exclusions. Leftover revenue would help fund regular parks programs.
And it's not like Portland, which touts its 32 off-leash areas in its parks system, is known for its unfriendliness to people who bring pets for parks.
"Despite these efforts, and the efforts of many dog owners to encourage respectful behavior," according to talking points on the ordinance provided by the bureau, "a culture of non-compliance with leash and scoop laws exists throughout Portland's park system."
Nike announced this afternoon that it will expand in Washington County, where it already lives, on land it already owns. By spurning Portland, which would have offered a 29-acre site for the company to sprawl into, Nike is passing up what the Oregonian reported were tens of millions of dollars in city and county tax incentives and abatements.
Mayor Charlie Hales' office issued a release that does its best to put a good face on the company's decision—coming after months of civic pursuit, threats by Nike to leave the state, and a crash special legislative session last year that, in turn, handed the company a tax deal meant to quell those threats.
“The city, the Portland Development Commission, and Multnomah County presented Nike and its representatives with a comprehensive and compelling proposal,” Hales said in the statement. “I’m proud of the effort our team put together. And I’m thrilled that the project, and the jobs, are staying in the metropolitan area.” Later, Hales said, “This expansion will have a huge impact on the regional economy.”
The statement said the negotiations with Nike started last summer after Nike approached Portland about a potential move. The company was interested in a swath of land owned by the Zidell family. The city put that land in a state enterprise zone, back in December, a clue that Nike was likely considering the property.
PDC Director Patrick Quinton echoed the mayor in the prepared remarks, talking up regional "efforts to present greater Portland as the global hub for the athletic and outdoor industry."
Hales also promised to find another taker for the Zidell land, still seen as a linchpin for giving South Waterfront the critical mass of humans it sorely lacks right now.
“The site offers a unique opportunity for Portland to create an urban corporate campus,” Hales said. “It’s a 30-plus-acre site, on the riverfront, connected to a public transportation system and – hey, it’s got a view of Mount Hood! If there’s a better urban site for redevelopment in America: Show me.”
Right 2 Dream Too—the thriving Old Town tent refuge for the homeless currently waging a legal battle against Portland over code violation fines—has posted its latest bill from the city's Bureau of Development Services.
The city, you'll recall, is treating the place like an unpermitted "recreational" campground—a characterization organizers, clients, and their attorneys vehemently dispute. But the city hasn't budged, and so the new unpaid total, as of this month, has hit $17,128.93. That's a sizable but steady bump since the last time organizers posted their bill, back in January. With interest and penalties, the monthly hit is now more than $1,500.
The well-run refuge opened in October 2011. Though cops anecdotally say it's helped, not hurt, crime, the site quickly annoyed groups like the Portland Business Alliance and has been blamed by developer David Gold for the failure of his heavily city-financed plan to redevelop the old Grove Hotel across NW 4th from the rest area.
It's even received the back of the hand from social services providers like Transition Projects Inc., which runs shelter beds and helps operate the city's multimillion-dollar homeless day center, Bud Clark Commons. TPI director Doreen Binder, who's also backing the PBA's attempt to tighten sidewalk laws and is close to Police Chief Mike Reese, called Right 2 Dream Too a "blight" in a recent piece by the Daily Journal of Commerce.
"It’s an unacceptable temporary situation,” she said. “It’s a blight on our visual, and it’s a blight on the statement about what we think about people and what we’re willing to do to help people. I don’t think it’s an acceptable way to live.”
Spokesman Ibrahim Mubarak, however, says the site, which rents its land for pennies a month, is soldiering on. Last month, he says, 11 people left for permanent housing while others took advantage of the chance for a quiet and safe night of sleep.
"We're meeting with our lawyers today," he says.
Portland City Council this afternoon gently pumped the brakes on a request by the city attorney's office to appeal a $306,000 jury award in favor of a Portland man punched, Tasered, tackled, pepper-sprayed, and hog-tied by Portland cops down the street from an Old Town nightclub in 2010.
As reported last Friday, the city attorney's office wants a new trial in the case. It's worried less about the force used against the victim, Gallagher Smith, as much as where the force was used: on a city sidewalk. Because a judge told jurors the the cops lacked probable cause when they told Smith to move along, attorneys and police brass are worried the case abrogates cops' right to direct traffic on Old Town sidewalks.
But in council today, Commissioner Amanda Fritz joined activists in pulling the item of the consent agenda, where it otherwise would have been approved unanimously and with no debate. And then Commissioner Steve Novick persuaded his colleagues to approve a modified version of the request that lets the attorney's office file only a notice of its intent to appeal—not any actual legal briefs.
More action will require another city vote. In the meantime, the city attorney's office has been asked to look into whether it can pay Smith his money while still contesting the sidewalks issue. An appeal could take years. The city, if it loses, could pay what City Attorney James Van Dyke estimated was $55,000 more in interest, not including a potential 10 percent penalty.
Fritz, however, still voted no—the only commissioner to do so. (Dan Saltzman was absent for the vote on the appeal.)
Mayor Charlie Hales' office posted his weekly calendar this afternoon. It's mostly what you'd expect for a mayor two weeks from tipping his hand on the city budget, at his State of the City speech: check-ins with the city budget office and human resources and city commissioners. But one entry, this Wednesday, jumps out.
Hales is going to be sitting down for half an hour with Rosie Sizer, the police chief fired by then-Mayor Sam Adams amid a nasty budget spat in 2010. Sizer was replaced by someone long seen as a rival for the top job, Mike Reese, the current chief, who'd earned a lot of respect in political and downtown circles during his time as Central Precinct commander. Before Sizer moved him to East Precinct.
Hales' spokesman says the mayor personally reached out to Sizer to talk about one of his major agenda items: community policing. Sizer started, at former Mayor Tom Potter's behest, a racial profiling committee. That committee has become the city's current Community and Police Relations Committee, and its come up with a training program on institutional racism that's been given to all of command staff as of December and will soon roll out to the rest of the bureau.
I asked Hales' spokesman, Dana Haynes, if the call was about something broader—leadership concerns atop the bureau. He says the half-hour meeting was built around a simple pitch to Sizer.
"We're talking about community policing," Haynes says, "and we want your input."
A message left with Reese's spokesman, Sergeant Pete Simpson, seeking comment on the meeting has not yet been returned.
Portland Copwatch's Dan Handelman remembers Sizer's racial profiling work, naturally, but not so much her ever using the words "community policing."
That said, "it's not a bad thing for [Hales] to be looking at what it means, what's it going to turn into..."
Earlier today, we reminded you about the new deadline for the arts tax: May 15. The post, like every post, has stirred up the usual smattering of promises and warnings and exhortations not to pay it.
Are these naysayers speaking for most of Portland? Or themselves? Let's find out! Here's a very official Blogtown poll—your chance to put your casual and anonymous opinions and/or plans on the line!
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