PORTLAND – After years of cutbacks, the city of Portland will have 10.5 million in extra cash to spend this year, thanks to a combination of fiscal discipline and rising revenues.
A new budget released by Portland Mayor Charlie Hales aims to spend a portion of the new dollars on school kids, the homeless and emergency preparedness.
It’s the first time in years that the city has had any surplus money to spend. Hales swept into office 17 months ago on an austerity platform.
Since 2008, the city has been swinging the budget ax at programs, staff and services. Under Hales, last year’s budget filled a $21.5 million shortfall, cut 142 full-time positions and paid down about $8.1 million in city debt.
This year, the new cash is a result of four factors:
- Increased property tax revenues
- Increase business license revenues
- Paying down debt
- Cutting back and reorganizing Urban Renewal Areas
Here’s how the Mayor wants to spend some of the cash.
- $2.25 million on homelessness, including outreach, service and building affordable housing
- $1.42 million for emergency preparedness
- $2.25 million Schools Uniting Neighborhoods, or SUN, program, an after-school program funded by the city and county
Other funds would be spread across the city bureaus such as parks and transportation.
The funds are a mixed bag of one-time revenue and ongoing funding streams. But the most recent uptick comes from the mayor’s move to rein in urban renewal districts.
Urban Renewal Areas are like mini-tax districts within Portland city limits. Much of the property taxes generated inside the districts go to special projects within the district, rather than to the general fund.
Hales is the city’s first mayor to make major moves to scale back and reorganize these areas, which keep hundreds of millions of dollars out of the general fund each year.
By rejiggering six urban renewal areas Hales figured to send about $1.5 million to the city and $3.5 to the county and schools in new revenue without raising taxes.
All in all, city officials are happy to be back in the black.
“It’s a significant turnaround from where we were,” said Hales’ Communications Director Dana Haynes. “It’s incredibly good. But it’s not a spend-like-a-drunken-sailor budget.”
Haynes said even with new surpluses there wasn’t enough money to fix all the neglected streets the city wants to repair.
This year the Mayor and Commissioner Steve Novick have floated the idea of a new road ‘fee’ proposal that would pay for repairs and maintenance on the city’s 1,500 miles of road. The fee looks to raise about $53 million a year.
With 40 percent of city streets in poor condition or worse, Haynes said the new revenue boost was good but not good enough to tackle the costs of long-term road repairs.
“It’s still just a drop in the bucket,” Haynes said.