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Wheeler releases ambitious budget
Mayor Ted Wheeler released his first proposed budget Monday. It includes requested funding increases to fulfill campaign promises to reduce homelessness, improve community policing, and repair the city's crumbling infrastructure.
"These are the issues I hear about every day when I talk to Portlanders. My budget makes significant investments in the things people care about that city government is uniquely positioned to address," Wheeler said when announcing the release.
The budget balances $12.3 million in last-minute funding increases approved by the previous City Council against $15 million in general fund budget cuts requested from city agencies.
"Portland's economy is booming, with unemployment at its lowest point in decades and another record year for business license tax revenues. However, recent City budget trends reveal the need for a prudent fiscal approach and a renewed focus on the core responsibilities of City governance," Wheeler said.
Major new initiatives include:
• Maintain more than $25 million to the city-county Joint Office of Homeless Services to invest in supportive housing, diversion programs, rapid rehousing, shelter, and system coordination.
• Launching "Build Portland," a plan to invest $600 million over 20 years in upgrading the city's infrastructure by committing returning general fund monies from expiring urban renewal districts to dedicated revenue bonds. It is projected to invest $50 million in such projects in the first year.
• Creating an Office of Landlord-Tenant Affairs that will develop a new rental unit registration program, collect and analyze data from the approximately 6,000 eviction notices currently filed through the Multnomah County court system, provide referrals to people at risk of or experiencing eviction to existing community services, and increase by five times the number of people served with fair housing legal assistance.
• Funding a first-of-its-kind Community Service Officer program within the Portland Police Bureau to increase the amount of time patrol officers are able to spend on proactive community police work.
• Improving responses to extreme winter events by authorizing Portland Bureau of Transportation to purchase three additional snow blades for existing trucks and contract with private companies for snow plowing and removal services.
• Increasing livability by adding four park rangers to patrol the Springwater Corridor and parks in East Portland, adding five rangers to retain patrol services in the central business district during the evening hours the right of way, and improving efforts to remove trash, needles, and semi-permanent structures from city-owned properties.
"My proposed budget focuses our limited resources on the things that make a real difference in the lives of Portland residents. By doing so we can put our city on the right track and set ourselves up for long-term success," Wheeler said.
As promised, Wheeler assigned all city bureaus to himself last Thursday to help the council members be more objective about them during the budget process. He will reassign the bureaus after it is approved by the council. All liaison responsibilities remain the same.
The City Budget Office reports Portland continues to experience record-breaking revenue growth but still faces an ongoing $1.8 million deficit driven by previous spending decisions. The more than $11 million of ongoing general fund dollars allocated to these priorities outpaced the growth in property taxes, transient lodging taxes, and other city revenues.
In contrast to the ongoing deficit, Portland is projected to have a $17.1 million one-time surplus because of strong revenue growth in the near term. Under the city's financial policy, one-time resources should be spent on infrastructure or other one-time investments.
Budget hearings are set for May 11 and 17 at City Hall. The council is scheduled to adopt the budget June 8. It takes effect July 1.