While Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler waited to hear Wednesday afternoon if he had a big enough margin in the primary election to avoid a runoff and six more months of campaigning, there was one other thing on his plate: approval of a $5.6 billion budget.
This time, he had all the votes he needed. Portland City Council unanimously voted Wednesday to approve the budget for the upcoming fiscal year. Over the two hour council session, the commissioners had their chance to introduce amendments to the budget the mayor had proposed two weeks ago. Among these changes were $50,000 to bolster security for council members, $633,200 for the Portland Street Response pilot program, and $547,000 in local cannabis tax dollars to find social equity grants.
Most amendments were smoothly incorporated into the budget. But one became a sticking point.
Commissioner Chloe Eudaly had introduced an amendment asking for the mayor to restore $147,000 funding to the Regional Arts & Culture Council, a city-funded nonprofit that provides grants for artists and other nonprofits in the region. The arts council faced a 9% cut in its funding, which they say will hamper the ability to help the arts community rebuild post-COVID.
According to Eudaly, that money was earmarked for grants to assist culturally-specific organizations.
“As a city we like to talk a lot about equality,” she said. “And I personally believe that we should put our money where our mouth is.”
While Wheeler remarked upon it as a reasonable and relatively small ask and voted in favor of the amendments, Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty and Commissioner Amanda Fritz declined, arguing that all city-funded bureaus and organizations needed to take a funding trim as COVID-19 threatened a massive shortfall in the general fund for the upcoming fiscal year.
“This is a small amount of money.” Eudaly said in response to some of the comments from her colleagues. “I’m just baffled by what I’m hearing.”
Other amendments that may have drawn a similar fight during the session never came to fruition. Hardesty had initially expressed interest in introducing amendments that aimed to disband school resource officers, transit police, and the gun violence reduction team.
But those never came up. Instead, the mayor said he and Hardesty are joining forces to “consider the ongoing use” of the Portland Police’s specialty units. These units include the gun violence reduction team, the school resource officers, and the traffic division. He said the plan is to work with “city leadership and other interested parties” and bring recommendations to the council by next February, which he said could potentially lead to changes in the next fiscal year’s budget.
While the arts council didn’t get the funding it was pushing for, there was a small victory some in Portland’s arts community could claim Wednesday.
While the mayor had proposed defunding the Portland Film Office in his proposed budget, he introduced an amendment Wednesday providing Prosper Portland, which oversees the office, with $72,000 - half of its usual funding for the office. The mayor said the remaining 50% of the budget will be supported by an increased fee on film permits.
“We heard loudly and clearly from the film industry that this office is vital to their success here in Portland,” said Wheeler. By paying increased fees, he noted “the industry is willing to play a significant part of this office’s success.”