Portland’s Bureau of Development Services has notified 13 employees they will be laid off effective March 1, citing a pandemic-induced drop in permit revenue.
The bureau raises nearly all its own revenue — 98% of its funding comes through permit fees. But in the midst of a pandemic, demand for big commercial projects like office buildings or hotels, which are capable of generating sizable permit fees, has plummeted.
Bureau spokesperson Ken Ray said Thursday that the agency, which is responsible for overseeing both commercial and residential permits throughout the city, has decided to lay off 13 people to avoid drawing down too heavily on its reserve fund. He said the layoffs are all non union-represented positions and spread across the bureau.
Ray said the bureau will be restructuring its teams to “minimize the impacts this would have on customer service.” Before this week’s layoffs, the bureau had 400 full-time employees, according to Ray.
He also said more layoffs may be on the table late this spring.
“We may have additional cuts,” he said. “We’re holding off on that right now.”
Business groups had previously asked Portland City Council to avoid cutting the budget of the bureau, warning a diminished bureau would be a serious impediment to Portland’s post-pandemic economic recovery, Willamette Week reported earlier this month.
In an upcoming budget request, bureau staff plan to ask to tap into money from the general fund to keep the bureau afloat. The mayor’s proposed budget, which will incorporate these requests, is due this spring.
The office of Portland Commissioner Dan Ryan, who oversees the bureau, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.