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The annual challenge -- proposing city budget cuts; they often don't happen, but will they this time?

DAVID F. ASHTON - Portland City Parks Commissioner Amanda Fritz told how difficult cuts to the PP&R budget are to make, while Director Mike Abbaté looked on. The second of two public meetings about this year's Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R) budget, and the need to make cuts in it, took place at the Mt. Scott Community Center on Wednesday evening, January 4.

"We're meeting with the community to get their input on what we should submit in our budget that meets the direction that Mayor Ted Wheeler and the Portland City Council has given us," PP&R Director Mike Abbaté explained before the meeting began in the auditorium.

"We were told to put together our annual budget to include least a 1% cut, but it could be as high as 5%," Abbaté conceded. "What we are doing today is asking for the community's help in identifying what kind of things should be involved in those budget cuts."

Making cuts is difficult for the Bureau, Abbaté acknowledged. "One of the things about Portland Parks & Recreation is that almost everything we do, every program and facility, is loved dearly by some group of folks."

Funds from the 2014 Portland Parks & Recreation Replacement Bond Measure can't help make up this shortfall, Abbaté explained. "It gave us about $68 million to fix our parks; and we had at that time around $400 million in repairs that needed to be made. The list of things that needs to be done is far bigger than that bond funds provided by the measure."

During the formal program, Abbaté provided an overview of the upcoming City of Portland budget. His presentation showed that $8.3 million in additional revenues will be coming into the city over the next fiscal year from property taxes and business licenses.

But, there are $12.3 million in additional commitments, including:

· $6.6 million in increased police pay

· $3.5 million additional housing

· $1.2 million for financing campaigns (passed by the voters)

· $1 million due to changes in overhead

This creates $4 million funding gap, which is why Bureaus are being asked to cut their budgets, Abbaté told the some-120 people at the meeting.

Portland City Parks Commissioner Amanda Fritz echoed Abbaté sentiments about the difficulty of cutting the budget. "When we're making cuts we also look in terms of equity and inclusion. There is 'equity criteria' on all the packages we'll be discussing tonight."

Two Sellwood Moreland Improvement League (SMILE) neighborhood association representatives were at the meeting, SMILE Vice President Gail Hoffnagle, and Board Member Nancy Walsh  both former Parks employees.

"Once again, they want to close Sellwood Community Center," Hoffnagle remarked with visible rancor. "We've been going through this year after year, and again, our community center's 'neck' is on the 'chopping block' for this budget cycle.

"This is a well-used, and beloved, Community Center," Hoffnagle continued. "The Parks Bureau had to pay a lot more money there recently because they used part-time staff, having cut the full-time people in their last budget! For this reason, it only appears that there's a large number of employees at the Community Center." She pointed out that the Center actually brings in more money from neighborhood programs than the city pays to keep it open. The Community Center building is listed on the National Historic Register.

Nancy Walsh remarked that the Sellwood-Westmoreland neighborhood has gained about 1,400 new housing units this year. Now that we're becoming the 'Sellwood Sardines', you'd think they would give some money to neighborhood groups and organizations who are trying to do the right thing for the people living in, and moving to, our neighborhoods."

Woodstock neighbors have expressed similar concerns about the possible impacts of the budget-cutting process on their own Community Center, which is now staffed and run from the Mt. Scott Community Center -- but is cleaned and maintained by a neighborhood volunteer group, at no cost to the Parks Bureau.

The "Public Budget Survey" closed on January 9, and the Parks Bureau was to deliver their "Requested Budget" on January 30.

As in past years, the Portland Budget Office will hold Public Budget Forums; one on April 11 and another on April 18. Those locations have not yet been announced.

When these meeting times and locations are announced, those interested can go and speak up for the Sellwood Community Center, or the Woodstock Community Center, or any other Parks programs they value.