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  • 20 Dec 2014

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Council's adopted budget bridges $21.5 million gap

Portland city councilors gave their all-but-final approval of the 2013-14 city budget Wednesday morning, endorsing Mayor Charlie Hales’ final spending proposal after approving three minor changes.

The new budget bridges an expected $21.5 million shortfall in covering current services, largely through selective cuts across most city bureaus.

The budget reduces the equivalent of 194 full-time positions funded by the revised 2012-13 budget, starting with the new budget year beginning July 1. Though the number shifts day to day, city officials project the budget could force 26 actual layoffs. Other staffing reductions large were handled by eliminating unfilled positions and early retirements.

The discretionary part of the general fund for 2013-14 will be $397 million, down from the current $413 million, said Andrew Scott, city budget director.

The city achieved some of its savings thanks to pension reforms adopted by the Legislature. Those savings could evaporate if public employee unions win a court verdict overturning the reforms. However, if the reforms are sustained by the Oregon Supreme Court, the city would benefit from future cost savings not currently figured into the city’s five-year budget planning, Scott said.

Commissioner Nick Fish praised the budget process followed by Hales. And Fish said the city’s decision to make the City Budget Office an independent entity, rather than one working at the sole direction of the mayor, led to a “more open and transparent process.”

Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who pushed the move to the independent budget office, lamented that next year’s budget will lop too much funding from environmental and human services.

Hales said he hopes the rising economy will make this his hardest budget to balance. He vowed to continue working with Multnomah County Chair Jeff Cogen on sorting out “who does what” between the city and the county. Recent negotiations between the two leaders showed they were “capable of getting to ‘yes’ on this budget,” Hales said.

The mayor said the budget maintains the city’s commitment to children, vulnerable people, seniors and public safety.

“This is a city that is leaner, but not meaner,” Hales said.

The budget now will be heard by the Multnomah County Tax Supervising & Conservation Commission, and will return for final ratification by the City Council on June 20.

More budget modifications could still be considered at that time, though it appears the dye is cast.