Turn the center into a fuel station? That's one idea for tax dollars

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Now that the city has some extra money to spend, the Bureau of Emergency Management wants to build a fueling center for city vehicles at the former SFC Jerome Sears Armory in Southwest Portland. There are lots of projects Portland could undertake to prepare for “the Big One” — a major earthquake that some say is inevitable — and little money to pay for them.

But there’s one overriding need right now, says Carmen Merlo, director of the city Bureau of Emergency Management. “You need fuel to get emergency crews on the road and restore lifelines,” Merlo says.

Yet the city has only one place for road crews, police cars, fire engines and other city vehicles to “gas up” on the city’s west side, she says, and it’s in a basement garage that might not survive a big quake. If all the bridges over the Willamette River go down, that could strand residents on the west side.

“It seems sort of fundamental,” says city Commissioner Steve Novick, who oversees Merlo’s bureau and supports her request for $2.8 million in city funds. “Fuel might be hard to come by and gas stations might get knocked out by the earthquake.”

But they have to take their place in line as Mayor Charlie Hales and the City Budget Office weigh spending requests for next year.

Unlike a year ago, when the new mayor was scrounging to find several million dollars in cuts for his first budget, city revenue is on the upswing. Economists project the city will have an additional $5.4 million in ongoing money starting in the fiscal year that begins in July, plus $3.2 million in one-time money.

Hales asked each bureau manager to submit a flat-funded budget for 2014-15, spending the same as they did this year. Separately, each manager was asked to submit proposals to use the extra money.

As of Feb. 14, city managers and commissioners had put in bids to spend more than three times the amount the city expects, and that number could still grow. There were requests to spend $18.9 million in ongoing money, and $13.5 million in one-time money. If all those were approved — and they won’t be — that would add the equivalent of 126 full-time positions to the city staff.

Merlo and Novick hope Hales will pick their proposed renovation of the former armory on Southwest Multnomah Boulevard, also known as the Sears building. It’s officially the SFC Jerome Sears Army Reserve Center, which opened in April 1961 and honors a Portlander who earned the U.S. Army’s Distinguished Service Cross posthumously for his bravery during the Korean Conflict.

The city got the surplus 28,000-square-foot building for free in late-2012 from the U.S. Army, but the city needs to find a way to make it suitable for occupancy, including seismic upgrades and disabled access improvements, Merlo says. She figures it will be ideal to include an emergency fueling station that could survive a big earthquake, among other uses.

Other ideas for the money

Her peers at other bureaus have other ideas they think are equally worthy of getting some of the extra cash. Some of those competing proposals are:

• Portland Fire & Rescue wants $2.6 million to stockpile money so it won’t have to lay off 26 firefighters funded by a federal grant this year and next. The fire bureau wants dibs on that ongoing money now, when it’s available.

• Bureau of Emergency Communications: $845,671 to add the equivalent of 10 full-time positions, some of them lost in prior cuts; plus $900,000 one-time money for new operations workstations.

• The City Budget Office: $461,700 in one-time money to replace its budget software system.

• Planning & Sustainability: $354,184 in ongoing funds and $412,046 in one-time money to add about 10 full-time positions for district liaisons, planning and code projects, and regulatory improvement efforts.

• Fund & Debt Management: $2.1 million in ongoing money for natural resource damage


• Office of Neighborhood Involvement: $300,000 one-time money to continue the East Portland Action Plan, plus $1.3 million to restore Neighborhood Small Grants and other lost


• Bureau of Transportation: $978,309 to pay for about seven new full-time staff positions; plus $1 million for pedestrian crossing improvements.

• Housing Bureau: $1.9 million ongoing funds to house vulnerable populations, provide homeless shelters and youth homelessness programs; plus $3 million in one-time funds for housing investments.

• Parks & Recreation: $3.7 million to add 46 permanent positions, which would replace 32 seasonal workers; plus $2.9 million in one-time money, including $2 million to improve its maintenance yard at Mount Tabor.

• Police: $471,318 to hire six more full-time people, four of them to restore night traffic shift staff.

• Other “asks” include $603,000 ongoing for SUN schools, $409,195 ongoing for the tree regulatory improvement project; and $658,000 ongoing for the Hooper Sobering Center.

In the scheme of things, the added funds represent a tiny share of the city’s general fund. But each project could bring an entire constituency of community members out in support, something Hales and the other commissioners will be experiencing in coming weeks of jockeying for the money.

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