“This funding package is our opportunity to make an immediate financial commitment to making greater, sustainable change for the long term,” Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said during the council vote. “This fall budget process represents the good work we can do right now with the resources at hand to address our most urgent housing, safety and economic needs.”
The vote followed a seven-hour public testimony session last week that brought over 200 people to testify to the city council. Many said they wanted city leaders to beef up the police bureau, citing repeated break-ins and a record number of shootings this year. Other Portlanders said they feared the city was backsliding on promises made in 2020 to find public safety alternatives to the police bureau.
The budget changes passed 5-0, though Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty detailed extensive concerns with the proposal. She said she felt the budget process had moved too fast and that officials had failed to take into account the hours of testimony they’d heard. She also said she was concerned the budget was committing the council to “financial irresponsibility” by using one-time money for items that would need to be funded for years to come.
“I’m disturbed by the lack of transparency and attempts to commit to new policies and practices during a rush to allocate millions of dollars that have barely been discussed as council,” she said.
The fall budget monitoring process, traditionally a time for city officials to make minor changes to the budget, became unexpectedly consequential after the city received an unanticipated budget surplus of $62 million. The money was the result of higher-than-expected return on local business license taxes due to big profits from large companies.
The city council committed $18.8 million of that surplus to homeless services as part of a city-county agreement on homelessness. That money, along with $19.2 million from a similar county surplus, will go to provide new shelter beds, new behavioral health teams in Old Town Chinatown and a scaleup of the city’s Homelessness and Urban Camping Impact Reduction program, among other initiatives.
“I am confident that we are taking concrete steps to solve this crisis the right way,” said Commissioner Dan Ryan, who oversees the city-county Joint Office of Homeless Services.
The budget changes approved Wednesday will put nearly $8 million toward public safety programs. That includes a plan to offer signing bonuses to new police officers and spend $2.7 million on body-worn cameras. The mayor has also said he wants to hire 200 sworn officers and 100 additional unarmed specialists within three years, though Hardesty there were no funds included in the budget that would allow the city to expand the size of the police force.
The budget also has $1 million go toward the citywide expansion of the Portland Street Response, a pilot program that dispatches a non-police response to 911 calls involving people experiencing homelessness or a mental health crisis.