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Mayor reduces parks cuts, new police staff in latest proposed budget

In his proposed budget, Mayor Wheeler touts "record funding for homeless services," while Portland Parks and Recreation sees steep cuts and ratepayers see increases on water and sewer bills.

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Mayor Ted Wheeler on Wednesday released a revised proposed budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year that includes slight changes, after public scrutiny of an initial budget proposal announced on April 30.

The new budget reduces funding for new police officers, from 52 additional officers to 49. It also gives $843,000 more to Portland Parks and Recreation compared to Wheeler's earlier proposed budget, but the parks department is still facing about $8 million in cuts to programs. Most significantly, Wheeler's latest budget adds back funding for community centers after public outcry.

Wheeler's latest proposed budget also restores $169,000 in funding to the Regional Arts and Culture Council.

"The budget we filed today represents a fruitful collaboration among City Commissioners. The Mayor appreciates this collaboration," said Michael Cox, deputy chief of staff and spokesperson for the mayor's office.

Wheeler's proposed 2018-17 budget still reflects his priorities of addressing homeless issues and police understaffing in the coming year, while cutting from other bureaus including the parks department to balance the budget.

In addition, Portland residents could see increases on their water and sewer bills.

Investments in homeless services, police

Wheeler’s budget adds millions more to homeless services, a key priority for the mayor who faces a growing homeless problem and increasing tension between homeless residents and business owners, especially in the city’s downtown core.

The mayor proposed adding $3 million to the city and county’s Joint Office of Homeless Services budget, and another $3 million for housing placement, especially those transitioning from shelters to more permanent homes.

An additional $4 million would go toward year-round shelter, housing placement, and street engagement, and $2 million would support an Office of Rental Services, which manages the new rental relocation assistance program for tenants facing unaffordable rent increases.

The mayor also proposed a heavy cash influx to the Portland Police Bureau, where staffing shortages mean many officers work long hours and rack up overtime payments. The new proposed budget adds 49 more officers.

The additional police would help reduce long 911 wait times, Wheeler said, and be able to provide more “community policing,” where officers interact with residents on a daily basis instead of driving from call to call.

The additional staff would also add two clerks to the Records Division to fulfill public records requests, three analysts to follow up on use-of-force audits, and another two Behavioral Health Unit officers to work with residents with mental health issues.

Cuts to other bureaus

The influx of cash to homeless and police initiatives means other departments could be facing big cuts. The Office of Government Relations would cut staff, and the Office of Management and Finance would reduce color copying by $67,000 and mail sorting by $8,800.

One of the biggest losers in Wheeler’s proposed budget is the parks department, the bureau run by Amanda Fritz, who saw her other major area of responsibility – the Bureau of Emergency Communications – stripped from her oversight last year after a damning report on 911 wait times.

Wheeler first proposed cutting the Portland Parks and Recreation budget by about $9 million from last year, from $208 million to $199 million. That’s $32 million less than Fritz’s office requested for the city department for this year.

Wheeler's revised budget reduces cuts to the parks department by $843,168, which still leaves the department with about $8 million less than last year.

Among the proposed cuts: Reducing water use for splash pads and turfs by one month, taking away a staff member who handles customer service on the weekends, and reducing maintenance and cleanup projects.

Wheeler initially proposed stopping a program to remove invasive species, but added funding back to that initiative in the revised budget proposal.

Wheeler's revised budget also gave the parks department a one-time investment of about $2.14 million for improvements to culverts and bridges in Forest Park, which the mayor's office said is something Fritz's office specifically requested.

Higher water, sewer bills

Another budget line item will impact Portlanders’ pocketbooks – the Portland Water Bureau’s budget would add an 8.9 percent rate increase for the typical single-family home. That money would help fund a new water filtration facility and unidirectional flushing.

The Bureau of Environmental Services would also levy rate increases on homeowners, of about 2.25 percent for a single-family home. That money would go toward fixing aging sewer and storm water infrastructure.

Portland issues combined water/sewer/storm water bills, which are one-third water bills and two-thirds Bureau of Environmental Services bills. That means the overall increase the typical Portland home will see is 4.54 percent.

Right now, the average combined water bill in Portland is $100 a month. The increase would mean Portlanders would pay, on average, an extra $54.48 a year for water, sewer and storm water services.

The Portland City Council will vote on the budget during a May 16 city council meeting.

Read the full proposed budget here

More: Wheeler's State of the City address

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