Measure 26-213 is a five-year tax levy that would provide Portland’s Parks & Recreation Bureau with approximately $48 million each year, on average. That money would go toward improving parks and natural spaces as well as safely reopening community centers, swimming pools and recreational programs after the pandemic.
The measure would prevent “ongoing reductions to park services and recreation programs, preserve and restore park and natural area health, and center equity and affordable access for all,” according to the measure filing.
The parks bureau said levy funds would go toward making access to programs and services more equitable, including offering more free programs to low-income households. It would also go toward keeping parks and natural areas clean and well-maintained as well as planting new trees in parks.
A five-member oversight committee would review levy expenditures, provide annual reports, and an independent audit would be required.
If the measure fails, improvements and restorations will not happen and taxes will not increase.
Who supports this?
Portlanders for Parks is the main campaign in support of the measure. The campaign has more than $46,000 in cash contributions as of early October, according to filings with the Oregon Secretary of State’s office.
The campaign has received a wide-ranging endorsement from area organizations and businesses including the Portland Business Alliance — the region’s largest chamber of commerce, as well as Nike and the Portland Pickles. It also has support from community organizations focused on communities of color like Latino Network, the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon and the Native American Youth and Family Center.
It’s also received endorsements from multiple current and former city officials as well as Metro Council President Lynn Peterson and Metro Councilors Bob Stacey and Sam Chase.
What will it cost me?
The five-year tax levy is $0.80 per $1,000 assessed value, beginning in 2021. It would cost the median Portland homeowner $151 per year, or about $13 per month, according to the measure filing.
The levy is expected to raise nearly $240 million in the five-year period. It would generate $45 million in the first year and an estimated average of $48 million each year of the five-year period.
The average household, according to a Portland State University study done for the parks bureau, has a median assessed home value of $195,000 — far below the city’s market values due to voter-enacted property tax limits from the 1990s.
Other things to know
Last year, the city made major budget cuts after Portland Parks and Recreation uncovered a $6.3 million annual shortfall in its $94 million operating budget.
“There were no easy fixes,” late Portland Commissioner Nick Fish said in May 2019 during the meeting when the City Council approved budget cuts to the parks bureau. “The more we looked at it, the more we realized that one-time funding was not the solution. It would only extend the problem for another year, allowing it to grow and to worsen.”
The coronavirus pandemic has only worsened the parks bureau’s financial situation with community centers and swimming pools closed and not taking in user fees.
“Without new, reliable funding, Portlanders will continue to see reductions to regular service and maintenance in parks and growing inequities in access to recreation programs,” Portland Parks Director Adena Long wrote to the Portland City Council this past July. “COVID-19 has made our need more urgent and acute. PP&R closed all community centers and public pools and canceled all recreation programming in early March, making it impossible to earn the fees our funding model depends on.”
“This financial domino effect means that, as things stand today, we are likely unable to open pools and community centers, or offer classes, camps, and swimming lessons in summer 2021 and beyond.”
Long said if the measure is passed, it would enable the parks bureau to reopen community centers, public pools and other spaces next summer. If the coronavirus pandemic is still ongoing next year, the levy would allow the bureau to design alternative recreation activities, she said.
The parks bureau would still receive money from the city’s general fund, Long said, but she said the bureau does not expect that it would need to make requests for additional money from the general fund for the entirety of the levy.
The local November ballot is crowded with other tax levies and bond measures. Voters will also be asked to consider a bond measure for Multnomah County libraries, a business payroll tax in support of area transportation programs and improvements, a tax levy to create universal preschool in Multnomah County and a $1.2 billion bond measure for Portland Public Schools.
But, Portland officials have said there’s no time to defer the parks measure to a later election.
Everett Wild, policy director with the mayor’s office and liaison to the parks bureau said, if the city waits until May to get something on the ballot, they wouldn’t receive the funding in time to get seasonal staff in place to open up classes, community centers, and pools by next summer.