New stalls return mounted patrol to Centennial Mills

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO JAIME VALDEZ - Rob Bender who is an officer with the Portland Police Bureaus Mounted Patrol Unit, places a bridle on Olin before heading out to the outdoor arena at Centennial Mills. The horses are back at the former flour mill after eight new pre-made stalls were installed in a safe area of the building.Portland’s police horses are no longer commuting to work. Their stalls have been relocated within their home in Centennial Mills, eliminating a daily round-trip from an Aurora farm.

The eight horses moved out of the aging former flour mill in February after structural problems were found in the section where their stalls were built. But after conferring with the Portland Development Commission, the economic development agency that owns the sprawling complex at Southwest Naito Parkway and Ninth Avenue, the Portland Police Bureau’s Mounted Patrol Unit bought eight new pre-made stalls and erected them in a safe section of Centennial Mills.

The work was completed in early June, eliminating the need to haul the horses from the Aurora farm where they were boarded.

“Now they’re spending more time at work again,” says Mounted Patrol Sgt. Marty Schell.

The pre-made stalls are manufactured by Noble Panels & Gates, a Milton-Freewater company that makes both permanent and portable livestock fencing. They cost a total of $20,000 and were purchased with available funds. Schell says the new stalls are as strong as the original ones, which were custom-built because the floors and walls in that section of Centennial Mills were not square.

Although the new stalls are closer together than the earlier ones, Jennifer Mack, a trainer with the unit, says the horses seem to like the new arrangement. “They can all see each other now, which they couldn’t before, and they seem to enjoy that,” says Mack.

The only problem is that the new stalls are adjacent to the unit’s assembly and briefing room, allowing barn odors to drift in, especially on warm days. “It’s definitely a little noticeable on some days,” says Schell.

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO JAIME VALDEZ - Rob Bender and Cassandra Wells who is are officers with the Portland Police Bureaus Mounted Patrol Unit Officer, walk their horses, Olin and Murphy, out of the new stalls at Centennial Mills.

Budget concerns

It is unclear how much longer the unit will be stationed in Centennial Mills, however. The unit first moved there after the PDC bought the property in 2001. The PDC has long planned to redevelop the property, and has considered a number of ideas over the years, including a proposal that included a public food market.

All of the ideas would have required at least some of the buildings in the complex to be demolished. All of them have fallen through, however, postponing the demolition. A new redevelopment plan is being crafted but has not yet been formally presented to the PDC for approval.

In the meantime, the unit has one more year remaining on its five-year rental agreement with the PDC, and an option to extend the lease for another five years.

The structural problems with Centennial Mills first surfaced at a sensitive time for the unit. Commissioner Steve Novick had just proposed eliminating it in the budget that takes effect on July 1 to free up money to fund other programs. It was one of three cuts Novick proposed to the Portland Police Bureau, including eliminating the Drugs and Vice Division and reducing the number of supervisors in the bureau.

But none of those cuts made it into Mayor Charlie Hales’ proposed budget or the final budget approved by the council. Instead, partly because of the improving economy, general fund revenue projects increased slightly, allowing Hales to accommodate some of the additional spending requests from the other members of the council.

As a result, the 2014-15 fiscal year maintains the unit at its current level. It is comprised of eight horses, four officers, a sergeant, an equestrian trainer and two stable attendants. According to the Portland Police Bureau, the unit is projected to cost slightly less than the $862,775 approved by the council. That includes a $200,000 contribution from Friends of the Mounted Patrol, a nonprofit organization that raises funds to support the unit. It has agreed to provide another $200,000 next year.

“I’d like to see some of the previous cuts restored, but we’re happy the unit is continuing,” says Schell.

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