OPINION M26-213: Don't bailout Portland parks with a tax hike
City of Portland residents are being asked to approve a tax measure to maintain and restore city parks and recreation programs. If passed, the measure would cost the average property taxpayer $151 more a year for five years and could increase property tax rates for some by 3%.
There are several reasons voters should reject 26-213. Rose City taxpayers pay much more for their parks program than other comparably sized cities. According to the 2017 Trust for Public Land Report, Portland spends around 61% more per capita on its city parks budget than 100 other cities.
If Portland funds its parks better than many other cities, why is there a budget shortfall?
Supporters of Measure 26-213 point to COVID-19 as the reason for financial shortfalls, but the record shows a consistent pattern of fiscal mismanagement by the Parks and Recreation bureau over the last several years.
In 2019, KOIN 6 reported that "Portland parks [is] facing a $7 million shortfall" and that "more than a quarter of its revenue came from fees for programs, which the city council has kept low to encourage public participation." Instead of charging a fair price for park facilities users, the parks department wants to tax people for the next five years who don't use parks to subsidize those who are under-paying to use park facilities.
Why do Portlanders pay so much more?
In 2016 the city council voted unanimously to unionize a bunch of positions in the Portland Parks Bureau. This cost the city $4.4 million more the following fiscal year. The city has never solved the shortfall and has run at a deficit ever since In short, the Portland City Council gave out raises they knew they couldn't afford to pay.
The measure states it will "restore" recreation programs but doesn't explain why these cut programs must be restored. The answer: these funds would cover over the fiscal mismanagement Portland Parks & Recreation. We urge Portland voters to reject Portland's parks mismanagement by voting "no" on Measure 26-213.
Jason Williams is founder of Taxpayer Association of Oregon. He can be reached through OregonWatchdog.com.
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