Facing a $20 million shortfall in the city’s general fund, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler proposed a $5.7 billion budget Thursday that would see the city’s police bureau bear the biggest cuts of any department.
Like last year, the coronavirus pandemic continued to put a strain on the city’s finances. Many of the typical income streams the city relies on — primarily lodging and business license taxes — have continued to plummet and hurt the city’s general fund.
The city anticipates the general fund will receive $591 million over the next fiscal year, which starts July 1. That’s about 10% of the total city budget.
The mayor had asked all medium and large bureaus to propose a 5% cut in general fund dollars. The mayor accepted most of the cuts proposed by the police bureau. That amounts to a $9 million reduction in ongoing money from the city’s general fund.
The bureau did not propose layoffs. Instead, the bureau proposed the cuts would come from “overtime reductions, materials and services reductions, and personnel costs for currently vacant positions,” according to the mayor’s budget materials.
This cut will mean the police bureau needs to eliminate a number of already vacant positions. The mayor’s budget directs police to return to council in the fall with a plan on what positions to abolish.
But the police bureau will not see a $9 million dip in net funding this year. While Wheeler’s proposing to cut ongoing funding, the mayor is also proposing to increase one-time general fund money by $6.2 million to speed up the hiring process within the bureau and “prevent a major staffing shortage” that the city anticipates in 2023.
“I am proposing increased investments focused on improving coordination among public safety bureaus, funding unarmed public safety officers, community-focused safety programs, and stemming the gun violence that took more than 40 lives during 2020 – including 24 people of color,” the mayor wrote in a statement accompanying the budget.
Wheeler is proposing new funds be used to add 22 public safety support specialists, accelerate the hiring of 30 new officers, fill five vacant positions in the police records division and three vacant analyst positions in the Office of the Inspector General to help the city get back in compliance with the Department of Justice settlement agreement.
The mayor’s proposed budget also assigns $4 million in ongoing funding to the new community police oversight board and nearly $1 million in one-time funding for the Portland Street Response pilot program, which dispatches a non-police response to certain 911 calls. Program managers are directed to appear in front of the city council periodically to report on how the program is doing.
All told, the police bureau’s budget will see a net decline of $2.9 million from its base budget. The base budget is the money the bureau ended the last fiscal year with plus money added for inflation. The police bureau is one of only two bureaus seeing a net decrease in its base budget, according to budget documents.
The police bureau’s base budget for this fiscal year was just under $231.5 million. The mayor is proposing a budget for the police bureau of roughly $228.8 million, according to the budget office.
Last year, after citywide demonstrations to pull funding from the city’s police bureau, the council adopted a budget that saw the police bureau receive a total of $229.5 million.
To patch the $20 million general fund shortfall, the mayor said he would also be freezing cost of living adjustments and merit increases for many city staff.
But the city’s budget got a boon from two new major funding sources: the city allocated $14.2 million from the parks tax levy voters passed in November and $30 million in emergency funding from the federal Rescue Plan. The city estimates it will be able to distribute another $70 million or more from this federal funding by this summer.
According to the proposed budget, the mayor wants to see the bulk of the federal dollars go to backfill revenue loss from COVID-19. Wheeler has also set aside federal money for hygiene stations for houseless Portlanders ($2.4 million), funding for the city-county Joint Office of Homeless Services ($6.3 million) and revitalization efforts downtown ($165,000), among other line items.
Wheeler also proposed millions in one-time money from the city’s general fund go to these economic recovery efforts. The mayor’s proposed budget would see $500,000 on grants to help small businesses make repairs, $3.4 million for graffiti removal, and $269,000 to support the Ankeny Food Cart Pod.
“Many small employers closed in 2020,” Wheeler said in a statement. “Bringing them back – and creating space for new ones, especially those owned by people of color– is a top priority for a successful, equitable recovery,”
The first work session on the budget is scheduled for May 4. The final vote will take place on June 17.
This story may be updated.