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New Portland budget proposal restores millions to public safety, first responders

Portland Fire & Rescue had faced approximately $6,000,000 in cuts, but the mayor's new proposal would prevent most of those cuts for this year.

PORTLAND, Ore. — A new Portland budget proposal would restore money to some essential emergency services that were previously poised to be cut this year.

Earlier in 2021, city agencies submitted reduced budgets to the mayor.

Portland Fire & Rescue approximately $6,000,000 in cuts, which included potentially closing a station and cutting multiple frontline responder positions.

Mayor Ted Wheeler's new proposal would prevent that from happening, at least for this year.

"We're very appreciative of the mayor's budget," said the president of the Portland Firefighters Association Alan Ferschweiler. "We think he made a decision to put frontline services and boots on the ground."

The union and fire chief had pushed back when the cuts were proposed, urging the city to reconsider its request.

BACKGROUND: Portland Fire & Rescue faces $6M in budget cuts

Despite the restored funding under this new plan, the fire bureau would still face cuts to some vacant administrative positions.

"We'll absolutely be fighting to get those positions back," Ferschweiler said.

The union is also bracing for future cuts.

"The biggest concern was the budget note that the mayor put in there to reduce our staffing in the fiscal year 2023," Ferschweiler explained.

Ferschweiler said that would mean slashing into the Rapid Response Vehicle program, which is made up of smaller teams of firefighters that respond to emergencies.

"Not all calls fit into a police response or fire response," said Mike Meyers, Portland Community Safety Transition Director. "There are many calls that can go a different direction."

Meyers served as Portland's former fire chief, then emergency management director, before this year being assigned to help streamline police, fire, and 911 services.

He spoke with KGW in March about the bigger picture of reallocating emergency funding.

"If we continue to grow in Portland into the future, and we have traditional siloed bureaus doing the same work they've always done and don't look at this holistically, we will be a more expensive operation," Meyers said.

The new budget proposal reflects this, expanding beyond some of the traditional emergency management priorities. Nearly a million dollars will go toward Portland Street Response, which works to address calls involving mental health issues.

Both police and firefighters have said that type of service is necessary.

"In the fire bureau, there are calls we shouldn't be going on, and everybody agrees on that," Ferschweiler said.

With a total city budget of $5.7 billion and many budget shortfalls during COVID-19, the firefighter's union knows the future is shaky. It hopes unused COVID relief funding from the federal government can go toward some of its frontline services when the bureau faces cuts again.

"There are some opportunities to serve the public with that money, and we're hoping that goes to a good use as well," Ferschweiler said.

RELATED: 'Moving the needle toward solving this homeless crisis': Portland Street Response expands service area

This article was corrected to clarify Mike Meyers' new role as Community Safety Transition Director for the city of Portland. Jonna Papaefthimiou took over as his former office as Portland's interim emergency management director in April.

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