Portland Fire Bureau leaders have released the results of a poll that convinced them not to take a $147 million bond measure to voters this year — and it’s easy to see why they opted against putting voter attitudes to the test.
The May bond measure would have sought money to fix two deteriorating properties: a logistics facility that stores materials and engines and the bureau’s training facility for new recruits.
But a poll by DHM research suggested a high likelihood the bond measure would fail. Roughly half of the 500 voters polled said they would oppose the measure. Thirteen percent were uncertain while 35% said they vote for the borrowing plan Following the poor polling, bureau officials decided to shelve the effort.
The survey was conducted Dec. 6-12 and had a 4.4% margin of error for these questions. City leaders acknowledged the poll results prompted them to abandon plans for a May bond a week ago, but at the time declined to release the full results.
The fire bureau did make the poll public Friday in advance of a press conference at their training facility on Northeast 122nd Avenue to showcase what the multi-million dollar investment could have bought. Fire bureau officials detailed a lengthy list of long-worsening structural issues, including an absence of changing facilities for female firefighters and no running water for the bureau’s occupational nurse.
Fire Chief Sarah Boone said the two deteriorating facilities keep the bureau functioning, but that fixes need to be made.
“We can’t do or operate our mission-critical services without having the support facility,” said Boone said. “For the last 20 years or so, it’s been put on the back burner.”
The bond was expected to increase property taxes for the average Portland homeowner by about $30. Opponents said taxes were already too high and wanted the city to use a recent revenue surplus instead to make the repairs.
Low approval ratings for the city also likely played into potential voters’ reluctance to say they’d support a fire bond measure. Recent polls, DHM researchers said, have shown historically low results when pollsters ask potential voters if Portland is moving in the right direction.
The fire poll suggested those most likely to feel the city is moving in the wrong direction are Republican and non-affiliated voters, those who live east of Interstate 205, and residents in households earning over $100,000.
“At this moment, our city is in crisis and people are angry. That came across very clearly in our poll,” Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who oversees the fire bureau, said at Friday’s press conference. “I can tell you in the history of Portland Fire & Rescue we have never seen poll results so bad.”
The results echo a Portland Business Alliance poll released earlier this week. That survey, also conducted by DHM Research, found an overwhelming number of likely voters felt their quality of life was deteriorating. That poll also suggested a difficult reelection bid this spring for both Hardesty and Commissioner Dan Ryan. One in 10 likely voters surveyed said they’d re-elect Ryan, who won his seat through a special election in 2020. Roughly two in 10 Portland voters said they’d vote for Hardesty. Both are on the May ballot.
The fire bureau poll released Friday also signaled potential election trouble for Hardesty. Over half of surveyed voters said they did not trust Hardesty when it came to making a decision about how to vote for the bond measure. Thirty percent said they did trust her, and 7% didn’t know how they felt. The margin of error for these questions was plus or minus 6.2%.
Fire bureau leaders said Friday they’re going back to the drawing board and reconsidering ways to get the facilities fixed. They’re considering using federal funding or potentially circling back to a ballot measure — though likely not for 2022.
“I actually don’t see the public getting any happier between now and November,” Hardesty said. “So I think it will not be for this year.”