By Don MacGillivray
Buckman Pool once again is on the chopping block along with several other of Inner SE important services funded through the Portland Bureau of Parks and Recreation (PP&R).
The initial decisions are made by the Portland Parks Bureau Advisory Committee, composed of thirty-four members and advised by twelve of Parks’ senior staff. Their role is to meet continuously throughout the year and advise the policy-makers regarding budget decisions.
On February 1, the 2016/17 budget recommendations will be presented to the City Budget Office. Through their work the community is equitably represented in the budget process.
Parks Commissioner Amanda Fritz has made it very clear that she is dismayed at having to propose these potential cuts this year.
One might say the “sacred cows” are being led to the slaughter as always with much regret by the city leaders. These same sacred cows seem to be selected year after year when the city council has to reconcile a budget shortfall.
The role of a Commissioner in charge comes more into play later in the budget process after the mayor makes his budget decisions in the final draft. This is then extensively reviewed by a public hearings process, reconciled as needed, and adopted by City Council in May.
Other programs suggested for elimination or savings are: 1) the Save our (Dutch) Elm trees disease treatment in Ladd’s Addition ($200 thousand); 2) the Schools Uniting Neighborhoods (SUN) program ($200 thousand); 3) the Sellwood Community Center ($100 thousand); and 4) a 100% increase in the Portland Community Garden annual plot fees (from $100 to $200 for a 400 square foot garden plot – a savings of ($100 thousand).
Other potential and troubling reductions are: 1) reductions to the teen programs; 2) elimination of the flower pots on the downtown transit mall; 3) reductions in funding for natural areas and 4) reductions in the “free summer for all” program, Each of these involves a savings from one to two hundred thousand dollars.
There is a story behind each one of these programs that seems to get lost or ignored in the budget process.
The story about Buckman Pool begins long ago in the 1960s or 1970s. It seems Portland Public Schools, who built the swimming pool for the children and families attending Buckman School and the other nearby grade schools, were short of funding.
Our civic leaders, after completion of a study on how to reduce school expenses, suggested that the City help by operating various auxiliary school activities one of which was Buckman Pool.
This worked very well for a number of years, but in the 1990s the city budget problems developed due to the measure five property tax decreases and Buckman Pool found itself struggling to keep its meager city funding. This was especially difficult in 2002 and then in 2005 when the pool needed repairs of several hundred thousand dollars.
Even with substantial public success, the pool remains a target for closure when city budgets are tight.
Inner SE citizens were surprised by the proposed cuts and recently the local economy has been good which should have resulted in greater city revenue. Yet there are several large, unexpected demands that will require more funding than is available this year.
The first is the mandate of the Federal Department of Justice agreement to improve the Police Bureau by hiring more police and staff as well as providing officers with body cameras.
The Fire Bureau is asking for thirteen more firefighters. The housing crisis that was declared this fall will require several million dollars to find shelter for the homeless and to provide more affordable housing.
Then all the Parks Bureaus summer part-time workers must be paid union wages with city benefits. All these are potentially budget-busting financial needs.
In addition to this all the bureaus, including Parks, have “add packages” they hope will be funded. The Parks and Recreation general fund budget is approximately $58 million out of their entire budget of $150+ million that includes all their various non-discretionary accounts.
Parks add packages are vying for $11 million in one year funding that the mayor will distribute among all the general fund bureaus.
Perhaps this is not as bad as it seems. The mayor is asking for a five percent cut. This would be approximately $30 million out of the General Fund.
Parks share would be 8% or about $2 million. The suggested cuts add up to much more than is required, therefore some of the suggested cuts will not be carried through unless some of the budget add packages are funded.
The wild card this year is how the needs of the other bureaus will affect the General Fund budget. This will be Mayor Hales last year to leave his mark on the City as he will leave half way through the budget year.
On the plus side is the possibility that the April budget forecast will bring good news. They are in the first phase of the budget process and the numbers will be reviewed and changed by the various levels of government after several public hearings.
If proposed cuts are to be reinstated, close scrutiny will be needed as well as prodigious advocacy efforts to the Mayor and City Commissioners.
Even though many of the programs in danger have been active and popular for years, they are small and deemed less important than larger programs.
Even though it may be easier to offer up sacred cows to be eliminated, it is hard for the users, children, seniors, and nearby neighbors, to understand why in such a progressive and beautiful city they must lose these small joys of life that the city helps provide.