PORTLAND, Ore. -- If you've noticed more graffiti around Portland, you're not the only one.
The city is hearing the complaints, too. And the new budget that kicks in July 1 is dropping big money to clean it up.
Previous Mayor Charlie Hales' last budget used $150,000 for graffiti removal services, and the program worked only if people called in addresses.
Wheeler's budget quadruples that amount, to over $600,000, and uses both a call-in hotline and a contracted company to grid out sections of the city and clean it up the same day, even asking private property owners' permission to help them clean it up.
City numbers show it's a faster, cheaper service. Paul Watts owns Graffiti Removal Services, one of the companies competing for a new contract with the city under this new budget.
"If we're waiting for people to report graffiti, we're waiting two, three, four weeks before it goes through the system. Going forward, we're going to actively set zones, set routes and just take care of it," Watts explained.
The city says the new system means 1.2 million more square feet of graffiti will be removed every year than before.
The Office of Neighborhood Involvement traveled to Baltimore and Philadelphia to learn the most effective way to handle graffiti cleanup, and the Lents neighborhood in Portland begged for that help. The neighborhood association set up a town hall with the city, complete with PowerPoint slides and photos of graffitied walls, abandoned RVs, zombie homes and homeless camps.
"It bothers me a lot and it bothers people in the community a lot. That's part of the reason we're here today, is to demonstrate that we're not going to tolerate it, we're going to work hard," said Mayor Ted Wheeler. "Report it, it's not going to be around very long, we're going to clean it up."
The city says reports of hate graffiti have spiked in the past eight months but still only comprise 2 percent of graffiti reported in Portland. Tagging accounts for 80 to 85 percent, gang graffiti makes up 2 to 10 percent, and political messages are the rest at 2 to 3 percent.
"I want to make it clear, hate graffiti goes right to the top of the list," says Mayor Wheeler
The bright yellow building of Darrel's Mufflers on Southeast 82nd Avenue has seen its fair share of graffiti. Owner Darrel Hanson paints over it several times a month, and is glad to hear the city is taking it more seriously.
"It affects my business if it looks like heck, it doesn't look good. It's really a problem now, and I don't understand what it does, what's the purpose of it," Hanson said.
Graffiti is a symptom of a bigger problem. The new budget also gives more money to tackle other problems like litter, needle collection and zombie homes.
It's also about education. The city says it will answer any request for graffiti removal help, but it won't keep paying to clean the same private property over and over. Neighborhood volunteers are needed and will be given supplies so they can help themselves.
You can call to report problem graffiti at 503-823-4824 or email email@example.com to receive a free graffiti removal kit.