Wheeler: Portland city unions can save worker jobs in next year's budget
Mayor Ted Wheeler released a proposed budget for the next fiscal year with no significant additional service cuts or layoffs — if public employee unions representing city employees soon agree to salary freezes and other steps that save $9.3 million.
Wheeler said negotiations with the unions are going well and hopes such agreements will be reached before Wednesday, May 20, when the City Council is scheduled to approve the budget that starts on July 1. If not, general funds bureaus likely will need to lay off employees to save the final amount necessary to close a $75 million shortfall caused by the COVID-19 crisis.
"Crisis reveals the true character of a city and what we have discovered during this emergency-mitigated budget process, is a city budget that will be able to largely withstand the economic blow of this crisis. My team and I turned over every stone looking for opportunities to close the financial gap without impacting core services to the community and sacrificing our equity and climate values," Wheeler said at the beginning of a press briefing on his proposed budget on Thursday, May 7.
Wheeler said his proposed budget includes approximately $66 million in savings and spending reductions without layoffs beyond seasonal Portland Parks & Recreational employees that were let go weeks ago. Wheeler said his goal is to maintain city services and employees, and that he is asking employees represented by union to agree to make the same sacrifices that non-represented employees are already making, including taking five or 10 furlough days before Oct. 7, depending on their salaries.
Wheeler also stressed that his proposed budget is intended to help the most vulnerable Portlanders who are being hurts the most by the pandemic, including the homeless and those at risk of homelessness. It maintains city funding for the Joint Office of Homeless Services and increases rental assistance programs.
Although the city has received $114 million in emergency funds from the federal government, none of that money can be used to close funding gaps, Wheeler said. Instead, it will be spent to assist those hurt by the economic slowdown caused by the response to the novel coronavirus that causes the potentially deadly disease.
The public will be able to comment on the proposed budget during a remote community meeting from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 12. The deadline to apply to testify is 4 p.m. Friday, May 8. You can learn more details by reading a previous Portland Tribune story on the meeting here.
"We are in highly unusual and uncertain times financially. The financial picture is still very much evolving," City Budget Director Jessica Kinard said. "In the face of such uncertainty, this budget provides thoughtful and strategic solutions that will set us up to be in a better financial position once more complete information is known."
Other future action being taken to finalize the budget includes:
• City Council action to approve City of Portland Budget: Wednesday, May 20, 2020, time to be determined.
• City Council action to adopt the city of Portland Budget: Wednesday , June 10, 2020, time to be determined.
You can find more information on the proposed budget and process here.
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