Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler unveiled his proposed 2018-19 budget Monday.
He wants to raise the city’s tax on businesses to pay for his priorities: 58 more police officers and more money to help people who are homeless.
The budget now goes to the Portland City Council for review. Here’s what you need to know about the mayor’s budget proposal:
It Increases A Tax On Businesses To Hire More Police Officers
The mayor’s proposed budget includes a small increase in the business license tax rate, from 2.2 percent to 2.6 percent. That will raise an estimated $15.3 million more annually for Wheeler’s priorities, in particular, increasing staffing at the Portland Police Bureau.
The Portland Business Alliance, which worked to block a similar increase from Mayor Charlie Hales two years ago, has signaled its preliminary support for Wheeler’s proposal.
Wheeler has proposed paying for 58 new sworn officer positions, an increase of about 5 percent of the Portland Police Bureau’s workforce, at a cost of $6.9 million annually.
The police bureau says the hiring is necessary to respond to a 22 percent increase in calls for service over the past five years and to reduce the amount of overtime officers work.
“It is inefficient, costly and time-consuming,” Wheeler said of the current situation. “Additional officers will break up that routine and begin to get us on a path to community policing.”
In addition to paying for more patrol officers, the budget funds a number of more specialized positions, including two new officers with the Behavioral Health Unit, three new internal auditors and four new officers in the training division.
It adds eight non-sworn positions to the police bureau as well, including a liaison to the homeless community and an analyst to review traffic stop data.
The Budget Shores Up The City’s Funding For Homeless Services
The budget includes $31.2 million for homeless services, a roughly 10 percent increase over last year.
The increase includes money for a new emergency management position to coordinate services during severe weather and an increase in the amount available to help people move out of homeless shelters and into apartments.
Wheeler has also proposed using new business tax revenue to make an ongoing $4 million commitment from the city’s general fund to cover services that have received one-time dollars in the past, including year round-shelter beds, housing placement assistance and street outreach.
That’s a change that makes the city’s homeless services a little less vulnerable to a recession. The Joint Office of Homeless Services has relied heavily on one-time funding in past years.
The Joint Office’s base budget still includes $7 million in one-time funding that could evaporate in a lean year.
Wheeler Wants To Hire More People To Come After Delinquent Taxpayers
The proposed budget adds three new full-time tax collectors in the Office of Management and Finance.
The percent of businesses paying the city’s business license tax hit an all-time low this year, just 85 percent according to Willamette Week. Wheeler said he also intends to invest in technology to aid tax collectors.
“The idea that there’s $9 million owed, but not collected, is unconscionable,” he said. “It’s the kind of thing that really angers the taxpaying public.”
Two Portland Community Centers Are On The Chopping Block
In November, Wheeler asked city bureaus to submit proposed 5 percent budget cuts. That prompted the Parks Bureau to propose closing four community centers.
Then the mayor retooled his approach to the budget, calling for an increase in the business tax to avoid deeper cuts.
The mayor’s budget maintains ongoing funding for two of the community centers, Sellwood and Woodstock.
But the Fulton Community center and the Hillside Community Center would receive one-time funding only.
In the future, Wheeler plans to close them. Fulton is already partially closed and needs water damage repairs in excess of $1.6 million. Hillside serves approximately 470 people a year in Northwest Portland.
The Parks Department also faces a number of other reductions in programs ranging from invasive species removal to water use at splash pads.
The City Remains Exposed In The Event Of A Recession
While city government is flush with tax revenue thanks to a booming economy that is experiencing record-low unemployment, Wheeler struck a somber note when discussing Portland’s financial position.
“The economy is clearly slowing, and we all know that economies work in cycles. What goes up comes down,” he said. “We are highly exposed to a recession at this point, all things being equal.”
The city’s tax revenue growth has been driven in particular by large real estate transactions, which could slow if interest rates rise. Two of the city’s other revenue sources — hotel taxes and cannabis tax revenue – come from markets where supply may have outstripped demand.
By contrast, the city’s largest expenses, including labor costs and public employee retirement benefits, continue to rise.
Wheeler backed down from his initial position that city bureaus prepare for 5 percent across-the-board cuts, but his budget does include a small nod to fiscal responsibility.
It requires bureaus to identify 1 percent budget reductions over the course of the next year and to build those cuts into the base budget for each bureau.