City Council Approves Budget

By Daniel Perez-Crouse

The much-lamented problems plaguing Portland in recent years were heavily discussed over the course of two City Council sessions involving the “unprecedented” budget surplus of $62 million that could take steps alleviating, and potentially solving, those same problems. 

The November 10 sessions included almost 100 people over the course of four hours weighing in with testimony, and the city’s own Commissioners and Mayor deliberating over their decisions to approve – which occurred on November 17. 

Many citizens voiced their personal experiences and disappointments related to the now common concerns that should be addressed by the budget: how Portland currently appears, how unsafe Portlanders feel and how many people are struggling in a city that Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty said costs “too much damn money” to live in. 

There were even frustrations that rhymed as citizen Bonnie Leiser gave her testimony in a poem, with lines like, This fallen city, once a sparkling jewel. Now it is just a cesspool.

Commissioner Dan Ryan went so far as to say, “The collective challenge before us is unlike anything Portland has experienced before.”

Mayor Ted Wheeler summarized the budget and its three major areas of focus: over $18 million to make a cleaner and more compassionate houselessness response, more than $7 million dollars to refocus, reform and re-staff a public safety that works towards both prevention and intervention and $2.2 million to strengthen shared economic prosperity in way that moves us to a carbon neutral economy.

In their testimonies, some  urged for the balance of reforming police while properly supporting them financially, to aid in providing a stronger response to the recent surge in violence, with a lot of positive sentiment towards the Portland Street Response getting identified in the budget. (It gained additional traction after new data emerged from Portland State University’s Homelessness Research and Action Collaboration).

There were complaints of blindspots in the budget, like from Anna Kemper, speaking on behalf of Business for a Better Portland, voicing disappointment at no prioritization of relief for small businesses. 

Wheeler responded to this specific point and made it clear the budget items he outlined were issues expressed by small business owners, and that there is still time for future budget processes to support them and other things that didn’t get direct focus in this instance. 

That said, it bears reminding, as many did throughout these talks, that it’s unknown if funds to this degree will be reaped again in subsequent budget processes.

The Fall Budget Monitoring process is “one of three budgeting processes that occur each year to give City Council and the public a summary of prior year activity (budget monitoring) including prior year performance and to adjust the current fiscal year budget (supplemental budgeting).” 

The City Budget Director Jessica Kinard says they true up the balance and, after carryovers and technical adjustments, they deposit any excess of fund balances into the city’s set aside account and contingency. 

“And this year’s historic surplus is almost entirely due to higher than anticipated business tax revenue,” she said.

Commissioner Mingus Mapps, despite not feeling the budget is “perfect,” supported it. He believes it helps achieve four goals of his: 

• Reducing homicides by 20 percent by the end of 2022, 

• Seeing a reduction in the absolute number of people living on Portland’s sidewalks in a year, 

• Seeing graffiti and trash cleared that has accumulated since COVID-19 began 

• Providing direct aid to Portlanders still struggling from the economic effects of the COVID-19 recessions (with direct mention of $500,000 allocated to this very issue).

Hardesty had the longest discussion over her mixed feelings, following prior frustrations at the speed this process was taking, to prevent getting bogged down with amendment complications past the holiday week. 

With City Council having spent hours into the night listening to testimony, she felt “in a box” trying to reconcile all of it without being given a ton of time to deliberate or make potential additional amendments. This led to the subsequent week’s second reading and the budget’s unanimous council approval. 

Despite specifying many issues, like one testimony session not being sufficient public engagement, that these funds could’ve been put aside for “future allocation” to make better use of them and qualms surrounding police reform, she supported many aspects of the budget. 

Detailed breakdowns of the budget can be found at bit.ly/PDXBudgetMonitoring

City Council Approves Budget

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