Fountains, dive team, Pittock Mansion cuts proposed to find $4M

Surprising Portland budget cut proposals

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Life-saving firefighters, cool fountains on a hot day, snow plows and salt during the winter, and rangers to patrol homeless camps are all in jeopardy of getting cut to balance the city of Portland's budget.

It's surprising to hear, considering it seems as though the tax base is growing steadily with more people moving to Portland. Building permits are up and unemployment is low.

"The economy is really healthy right now, revenues are really healthy, property taxes are up, so the city is in a really good place economically," said city budget director Andrew Scott.

Except, he says, Portland is short $4 million. Scott says it's because the previous city council funneled more general fund dollars into homeless services and upped police salaries to fix a staffing shortage.

Now, for the 2017-2018 budget, public safety and housing bureaus have been asked for 2 percent reduction options. Every other department has to put forth 5 percent reduction options. View the proposed cuts

"The council and mayor will look at which ones have the least impact on the community and services, and pick out those lowest priority programs for reductions," Scott said.

The cuts represent less than 1 percent of the total general fund, which is $600 million. Scott says, "It's a moderate amount to cut, during the Great Recession of 2008, we had to cut $20 million from the general fund."

You might be surprised that the Rose City's decorative fountains, like Salmon Street Springs on the waterfront and Jamison Square in the Pearl District, are at risk of shutting off for good to save money. We asked people hanging out at the waterfront how they feel about that potential.

"That's a major bummer. When I was a kid we'd come here and play, that's what you do when it's hot out," one man said.

All funding to keep up the beautiful grounds around the iconic Pittock Mansion is also recommended to go away. Same with the entire Portland Police Mounted Patrol horse program.

And who can forget our record winter? Even the city said their response was woefully inadequate and needed to be better. But in the proposed budget, the city says we only get one storm a year, it's not worth it to up the snow and ice removal budget, so we shouldn't.

Everyone we talked to, disagreed with that.

"I think that's one of most important things we should keep for driving in the winter," a woman said. Another said, "It's so important, because if you don't go to work then you don't get paid, so I think everybody should have that option."

A sweep of the Springwater Corridor last year cleaned up 90 percent of the homeless camping and problems that had gone on there, at least according to the city budget documents. Parks officials want to turn four temporary rangers who patrol the area into permanent employees to keep things clear. But now, budget cuts recommend that not happen.

Out on the Willamette River, we've shown you the dozens of transient boaters illegally anchoring on public docks and in the waterway, spilling sewage and garbage, lacking required safety equipment and registration. The budget office now wants to save money by not having sheriff's deputies patrol the docks to move boaters along anymore.

Portland Fire and Rescue's entire dive team program is recommended to get the boot. It would mean no more 24/7 crews to rescue people drowning and quickly pull bodies from the water. Instead, the sheriff's office, which the city acknowledges has a much slower response, would be responsible for water emergencies.

The important thing to note about all these options, Scott says, is the council isn't going to get rid of all of them, but they wanted enough options on the table to pick and choose.

"Mayor Wheeler ran on a fiscal responsibility platform and he's preparing the city for an eventual fiscal downturn," Scott said. "So we have a good economy right now, it's really strong and it will slow down eventually and he wants to make sure we've taken that into account."

You may be wondering, where's the $3 million a year the city gets from legal marijuana taxes. Yes, it helps, but most of it has to go to things like DUII enforcement and addiction programs. Scott says only a small amount can go to other things.

The final budget has to be approved in May.

KGW


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