Unions study next moves as mayor gets 'back to basics'

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Mayor Charlie Hales is bracing for citizen complaints about cuts in his proposed city budget, which could hit the Portland Police Bureau and Portland Fire and Rescue hard.Mayor Charlie Hales says he won’t spare any “sacred cows” to cure the city’s daunting budget shortfall, and that apparently goes for sacred horses as well.

Hales on Tuesday proposed eliminating the Police Bureau’s popular mounted horse patrols, stripping city funding for the Buckman swimming pool and reducing the city workforce by 3 percent to close a projected $21.5 million gap in the 2013-14 general fund.

In a sharp contrast to former Mayor Sam Adams — who scrounged millions in city funds last year to send to Portland schools — Hales suggested what he called a “back-to-basics budget.”

He proposed eliminating the equivalent of 236 full-time positions funded by the current city budget. Public safety agencies, largely shielded since the recession hit, won’t escape their share this time.

Hales also wants reduced staffing in the city’s sewer and water utilities, to keep a looming sewer rate hike down to 5.3 percent and a water rate increase to 3.6 percent.

In other signs of a new direction in the post-Adams era, Hales is reducing his staff by a third, wants to significantly cut staffing in Adams’ prized Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, and proposes shutting down the Office of Healthy Working Rivers, championed by Adams.

Hales estimates that fewer than 100 layoffs will be needed, and it could be much less than that, as city bureaus had about 331 unfilled positions at last count in March. The Police

Bureau, which would lose funding for 59 positions under Hales’ budget, had 51 unfilled positions in March. Portland Fire & Rescue, which is slated to lose 39 positions, had 25 unfilled slots.

Hales also has pushed for new early retirement incentives to induce older city workers to retire, thus alleviating the need for more layoffs. City workers must decide whether to use those incentives in the next couple weeks.

How Hales proposes to close the city’s $21.5 million general fund budget gap:

• Reduce city staff about 3 percent.

• Reduced pension cost-of-living adjustments: $3.5 million

• Reduce, delay salary cost-of-living adjustments: $2 million

• Eliminate mounted horse patrol: $1.1 million

• Eliminate city funding of county’s Crisis Assessment and Treatment Center and other county programs: $1.2 million

• Reduce Portland Development Commission outlay: $1 million

• Eliminate Office of Healthy Working Rivers: $780,000

• Stop funding Buckman Pool: $160,000

Where Hales wants to cut city jobs*:

Police Bureau: 59 of the current 1,228 positions

Water Bureau: 41 of current 619 positions

Fire & Rescue: 39 of current 730 positions

Environmental Services: 22 of current 538 positions

Transportation: 19.5 of current 745 positions

Management and Finance: 18.5 of current 649 positions

Planning and Sustainability: 18.5 of current 110 positions

Parks & Recreation: 12 out of curent 421 positions

Mayor’s office: 8 of current 24 positions

Emergency Communications: 4.5 of current 143 positions

Housing: 0 out of current 55 positions

Development Services: gets 10.5 added staff

*Full-time-equivalent positions funded in revised 2012-13 budget

About one-fourth of the city’s general fund shortfall would be erased by reducing or delaying cost-of-living adjustments to city workers and retirees. Hales proposes to save $2 million by reducing COLAs to 0.9 percent, half the normal rate for next year, or delaying them. And he’d save $3.5 million via a COLA reduction for Public Employees Retirement System retirees, approved recently by the Oregon Legislature.

Hales, employing what he calls a “board of directors” approach to governing, at least for writing the budget, leaned heavily on ideas proposed by his fellow city councilors, which bodes well for getting his budget approved by the full City Council. Those cuts largely were in police and fire services, which account for an outsized share of general fund spending.

In addition to eliminating the mounted horse patrol, Hales proposes reducing the number of police officers working on traffic, gang enforcement, family services, school resource officers, property crimes, drugs and vice, and forensic evidence. He also recommends eliminating 17 police patrol positions, about the same as the number of vacancies in those posts.

Borrowing an idea proposed by fellow city commissioners, Hales has proposed “bridge financing” to keep some older police officers on the job long enough to qualify for retirement, thereby alleviating the need to lay off younger officers. That would protect the bureau’s recent gains in hiring more minority police officers.

Police Chief Mike Reese says he accepts Hales’ proposed cuts to the bureau because he understands public safety agencies must share the burden to balance the budget.

Wresting union concessions

Hales wants to shift the way Portland Fire and Rescue operates to reflect what he calls its “core business”— medical response.

All fire stations would remain open, but Hales suggests eliminating four regular fire companies, which employ 52 firefighters. In their place, Hales wants the fire bureau to create two-person Rapid Response Vehicle units, which use smaller vehicles than the traditional fire trucks and require fewer staff.

Alan Ferschweiler, president of the Portland Firefighters Association, says he’s disappointed in Hales’ budget, saying it will require many firefighter layoffs.

There are occasions where two-person paramedic crews are fine, he says, but they should be done to supplement regular fire truck crews, not replace them. If a two-person crew arrives first at a house fire where someone is inside, they will enter the home without the protection of a fire hose, Ferschweiler said.

Sometimes a larger crew is needed to save lives, he says, as one person does CPR, another handles artificial respiration, and others might be needed to attach an IV or prevent the person from going into shock.

Hales says the changes in police and fire staffing won’t require any changes to the city’s union contracts. However, Ferschweiler says he isn’t so sure about that.

Commissioner Dan Saltzman says he supports Hales’ approach to both public safety bureaus. Saltzman says he will not fight to preserve the horse patrol and doubts that any other council member will, either. And Saltzman says he has advocated for smaller, medical-related vehicles and crews at the fire bureau for years.

Commissioner Steve Novick, who hopes to become the commissioner in charge of the Fire Bureau, also praises Hales’ budget.

“I have made no secret of the fact that I believe a restructured Fire Bureau should do what the ambulance service does and have different staffing levels at night than during the day, given that day call volume is much higher,” Novick says.

City commissioners had urged Hales to find budget savings by reducing police and fire use of overtime, but that wasn’t a big element in Hales budget. It’s possible he hopes to wrest concessions from the unions in collective bargaining instead.

Hales says he expects the biggest “pushback” to be his call to eliminate the horse-mounted police patrols and Buckman pool subsidies, as well as his call to set aside $3 million in a contingency fund.

There also is already pushback from County Chair Jeff Cogen, who criticized Hales’ proposal to trim city funding from the county’s Crisis Assessment and Treatment Center.

But Hales wound up shaving $1.2 million in city support to Multnomah County programs, much less than recommended by the City Budget Office. Some but not all that might be made up by the county, Hales says.

Kent Craford, director of a coalition of large water users, is disappointed that Hales proposed such high increases in city utility rates. He was hoping for no increases or even a reduction in water and sewer rates.

Rob Wheaton, a council representative for Council 75 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, is pleased with the Hales budget proposal.

“He’s cutting in the right places,” says Wheaton, whose union represents about 1,000 city employees. “For the most part, it looks like they’re looking at the vacant positions.”

Reporter Jim Redden contributed to this story.

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