Southeast's Community Centers again menaced?
For years, Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R) has held vigorous public outreach sessions regarding its annual budget, giving volunteers – especially those in Sellwood and Woodstock – an opportunity to justify continued support for their respective Community Centers, despite regularly putting them up for possible closure.
However, this year – instead of announcing open houses, workshops, and surveys – in late January, PP&R's Interim Director, Kia Selley, with the approval of supervising Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish, instead let it be known that the Bureau is following a different budgeting process this year.
This new budget process, which was stipulated by Mayor Ted Wheeler, requires a "line-by-line look" at costs and revenue.
"What we've learned is that there is a growing structural problem in the Bureau's budget," Selley's message said. "Right now, it's a gap large enough that the strategies we have employed in past years to handle growing expenses no longer work. Current projections show up to a $7 million gap for the next fiscal year, in a $94 million operating budget."
According to Selley, the costs for programs, personnel, and other expenses, have significantly increased, while revenue has not.
The newly-appointed Director of PP&R, Adena Long, who is stepping into this role after doing similar work in New York, has yet to comment publicly on the budget or the process. However, Inner Southeast Portland Community Center boosters have already commented on both.
Life-long parks booster – and a former Parks Bureau employee – Gail Hoffnagle in Sellwood commented, "Yes, it is baffling how this is all going to play out. It is certainly anxiety-provoking, especially to people who depend on the Sellwood Community Center for services.
"Many programs at the Center have long waiting lists, showing a desperate need for more services, not fewer," Hoffnagle reflected. "As our neighborhood has steadily increased in density – we're becoming increasingly jam-packed like sardines! – we need more indoor places to gather; to stay connected with each other."
Currently, monies from all Centers are pooled together to fund activities like preschool, Hoffnagle commented. "If funding for a 'small' center, like Sellwood, is lost, it will also mean a blow to the Centers [serving] low-income neighborhoods."
She was pleased, though, that PP&R is looking at its budget "from the ground up"; and, at the same time, she hopes they'll include input from people with a recreation background, as opposed to just a parks background, to study the numbers specifically for recreation.
"Besides looking at line items, I hope they'll also take a fresh look at budget accountability – which, at times, is baffling, to say the least," opined Hoffnagle.
She gave examples of fees charged by PP&R for the Concerts in the Park series and the outdoor movie shown at Sellwood's "Sundae in the Park" in August. "How much does it really cost to show one movie in a park?" Hoffnagle mused.
"I hope that after deliberation, wide-ranging public input is then sought by the Bureau; our neighborhood associations and Community Center 'Friends' committees would love to help solve this issue once and for all.
"It would be tragic to think that, after all these years, the citizens who have been supporting Community Centers and parks would be locked out of an important process done by bureaucrats behind closed doors," Hoffnagle concluded.
Meantime, Woodstock Neighborhood Association (WNA) Chair Sage Jenson told THE BEE the WNA has also considered this budget issue. Woodstock has been adhering to an agreement with PP&R to keep the Woodstock Community Center open, by providing its ongoing maintenance at WNA's own expense.
"Given the WNA's close relationship with the Woodstock Community Center, we understand first-hand how vital the PP&R facilities, staff, and programs are for everyone in Portland. We strongly urge city leaders to address the budget shortfall in a manner that ensures PP&R's high-quality programs and services continue, while preserving facilities such as the Woodstock Community Center.
"We are hopeful that, given the WNA's newly renewed five-year shared partnership agreement with PP&R, we will continue have a role working with PP&R to preserve the Woodstock Community Center and its programs for future generations of Portlanders to come."
Possibly some comfort to the activists for parks and Community Centers came from former Interim PP&R Director Selley's concluding statement: "As always, there will be opportunities for you to weigh in." Certainly many in Inner Southeast hope that is so.