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Police, homeless service budget proposals draw four hours of public testimony

After four hours of public testimony, the council adopted a series of budget amendments, clearing the way for a final vote at next week's meeting.

PORTLAND, Ore. — The Portland City Council adopted a series of amendments to Mayor Ted Wheeler’s proposed budget for the city’s annual fall Budget Monitoring Process on Wednesday night, setting up what is likely to be a final vote next week.

The proposed budget incorporates a $62 million surplus in one-time revenue and devotes a significant portion of the funding to a pair of investment packages that Wheeler unveiled last week. The packages would devote $18 million to homeless services and put $10 million toward public safety measures including staffing at the Portland Police Bureau (PPB).

Wheeler’s proposal set a target of hiring 200 officers and 100 unarmed community safety specialists in the next three years, as well as a “retire-rehire” program to bring back 25 recently-retired or soon-to-be-retired officers this year and another 25 next year.

One of the amendments, proposed by Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, added time limits and hiring criteria for the retire-rehire program, limiting contracts to one year and disqualifying officers who have a pending disciplinary matter, sustained complaints in their personnel files from within the past 10 years or who retired in lieu of being investigated.

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All 14 proposed amendments passed at the end of the meeting, setting up a final budget vote next week, although the council agreed that additional amendments could be proposed next week after Hardesty expressed concern about the speed of the process and said there hadn’t been time to consider all the public testimony.

“We are setting policy with this vote,” she said. “Otherwise, we’d be having this conversation over the next few months as we prepare for the next budget cycle.”

Public input

Nearly 100 people signed in to testify at the virtual public hearing during Wednesday’s meeting, which was scheduled to run for three hours but ended up continuing for almost seven.

Similarly large crowds testified ahead of the council’s June 2020 vote to cut $15 million from the PPB budget and ahead of an November 2020 meeting in which the council ultimately voted down a proposal to redirect another $18 million in police funding. Opinions at Wednesday’s meeting were highly mixed.

Dozens of commenters spoke in support of the additional police funding, casting it as a necessary response to an increase in vandalism, theft, break-ins and gun violence in Portland this year, and some argued that the increased violence was a result of the cuts to police funding last year.

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Several business owners testified that they were struggling to stay open due to rampant criminal activity, and multiple residents said they felt unsafe in their neighborhoods.

Many others vehemently pushed back, variously describing the proposed police funding increase as a knee-jerk reaction, a betrayal of the reform efforts initiated last year and a misguided policy that wouldn’t accomplish the intended goal of reducing crime.

Several also expressed skepticism about the proposed goal of adding 300 PPB staff, given that the bureau has been struggling to fill its existing vacant positions.

The homeless services investment package enjoyed broad support among the people who testified, although some of the speakers criticized it for putting too much of an emphasis on congregate shelter facilities rather than individual permanent housing.