Mayor Ted Wheeler has postponed the City Council's semi-annual budget adjustment process to increase spending on homeless programs.
Wheeler had been scheduled to release his recommendations for spending the unexpectedly large $62 million surplus on Monday, Oct. 18. Instead, his office announced that Wheeler and Housing Commissioner Dan Ryan had been contacted by Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury last week to discuss how to increase city and county spending on homeless solutions.
"Without a moment's hesitation, we responded with an enthusiastic yes. Our housing need is urgent, and we know we can do so much more when we work together. This influx of funds poses a unique opportunity to address the most pressing needs around houselessness in Portland," Wheeler said.
The discussions are happening as the homelessness is reaching crisis proportions in the region. A newly-formed advocacy group called People for Portland has released a poll that shows 84% of voters disapprove of how city and county officials are handling homelessness. Four nonprofit organizations based in Portland's Old Town/Chinatown sent a letter to city and county officials on Oct. 6, expressing alarm about the "rapidly deteriorating conditions" in their neighborhood.
The letter was sent from Lan Su Chinese Garden, the Japanese Museum of Oregon, the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education and the Portland Chinatown Museum. It told local leaders it's past time for them to take action to address vandalism, violence and mental instability in the area.
The council had been scheduled to hold a work session on Wheeler's recommendation on Tuesday, Oct. 19 and then hold a hearing and vote on them on Wednesday, Oct. 27. Instead, the process — officially known as the Fall Budget Monitoring Process — will be completed next month.
"Due to this new development, we are moving the Fall BMP work session to early November. This City-County partnership will allow our dollars to go farther and support more Portlanders. I am thankful for the ongoing conversations I've had with my colleagues on developing the City's Fall BMP package and welcome the County to the table," Wheeler said.
Under existing city policies, half of the surplus can be spent during the process held every fall and spring. The City Budget Office announced the new size of the surplus while the current process was already underway. It was much larger than expected. City bureaus had only requested $5.7 million in addition funds by then.
Wheeler and the other council members have already agreed to spend a little over $1 million to expand the Portland Street Response program citywide. It is a non-police alternative to 911 calls that is being tested in the Lents Neighborhood.
Wheeler has also said he wants the Portland Police Bureau to rehire up to 80 officers who are scheduled to retire before July 1, the start of the next fiscal year. The bureau has not yet requested the additional funds to do that.
Commissioner Mingus Mapps has also said he believes $2 million to $4 million should be spent to increase the bureau's Behavioral Health Response Teams.
The budget office has recommended just over $14 million in increased spending, including $8.5 million for future liabilities. Other large recommendations include:
• $1.9 million to upgrade the Portland Metro Levee System
• $500,000 for the creation of a Citywide Legal Priorities Reserve
• $490,684 in the Office of Management & Finance Bureau of Human Resources for 5.0 limited term recruiting positions
• $204,767 in the Office of Management & Finance Bureau of Revenue and Financial Services for a General Fund true-up for the Integrated Tax System
• $300,000 to help support partnerships with Community-Based Organizations with technical assistance navigating the city's grant and procurement processes
• $260,000 in Portland Fire & Rescue for fire station security, $1,081,080 from policy set aside to increase Portland Street Response service availability, and $300,509 for limited term inspectors
The budget office said most of the surplus is the result of higher-than-expected business license tax revenues.
"While this is an abnormally large amount of excess balance, it is in line with recent experiences of other government jurisdictions such as the State and Multnomah County. The City Budget Office forecasts revenues conservatively during the course of the year, and the pandemic was an 'off-model' event that ubiquitously presented forecasting challenges to economists," the office wrote in an executive summary of the projection.
More information can be found on the budget office's website at www.portlandoregon.gov/cbo/.
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