Wheeler proposes $6.7 billion budget
Mayor Ted Wheeler released his proposed budget for the next fiscal year at a City Hall press conference on Wednesday, May 4.
The $6.7 billion budget included an unexpected increase of $34.8 million in discretionary dollars because of a last-minute surge in business license taxes. Discretionary funds are typically between 10% and 11% of the total budget that includes dedicated utility fees and federal funds.
Wheeler had previously said that he intends to increase spending on homeless services and public safety. Among other things, he had promised to fund the six Safe Rest Villages being developed by Commissioner Dan Ryan, expanding the Portland Street Response program championed by Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, and hiring 300 armed and unarmed Portland Police Bureau employees over two years.
The proposed budget, which the city will officially release to the public Thursday morning, designates $85 million for homeless services, $37 million in new investments in public safety, and $20 million for street clean up and repair efforts.
On top of the money the city expects each year from taxes, bonds and revenue fees, Wheeler had additional funding to work with this year. Portland also received $104 million from the federal American Rescue Plan Act. The city's budget office says large businesses did unexpectedly well during the pandemic. City rules dictate half of license tax funding should go towards major maintenance projects.
The proposed budget includes $3.9 million to hire 28 new unarmed Portland Police Bureau specialists, bringing the total number of positions to 70. He also wants to add nearly $850,000 to bring on more 911 operators as call volumes have risen sharply and $1 million to expand the city's trash and graffiti cleanup program. The city had previously allocated $3.4 million to remove graffiti across the city.
Among other notable investments:
• $11.5 million to make the Portland Street Response 24-hours-a-day. The unarmed emergency response program is intended to reduce the workload of the city's first responders by sending a team of health workers and a paramedic on 911 calls that involve people experiencing mental illness or homelessness. The money will bring the number of program staff to over 50.
• $4 million in climate change-related funding. That includes $250,000 for the city to begin developing a policy to improve air quality and the implementation of a new parking fee to discourage driving. It is not immediately clear if the fee will be implemented citywide or only in certain districts. The mayor's proposed budget says the revenue from the fee will go to "climate and equity issues," such as making busy routes safer for pedestrians.
• $5.5 million to acquire land for future affordable housing. The proposal states the housing bureau will use the money to buy land for 200 to 400 units of permanent affordable housing in East Portland.
• $2.9 million to bring on more 911 operators and expand the 311 phone service, which is meant to act as an easy point of contact to access government services. The mayor's budget adds 10 full time employees to make the system operational 24/7. The mayor expects 311 to handle 180,000 non-emergency calls with the new staffing capacity.
• $13 million total for gun violence prevention. The proposal puts $1.8 million towards the Portland Parks Bureau to have more park rangers on patrol in the city's parks, and $10.2 million to the city's Office of Violence Prevention for initiatives to reduce gun violence.
The announcement is the start of a process that will include public hearings and input and a final vote by the entire City Council.
Oregon Public Broadcasting is a news partner of the Portland Tribune and contributed to this story.
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