PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Protests were expected at Portland City Hall Wednesday during public comment on the city’s $5.5 billion budget that includes new programs and cuts. Instead, the heated exchanges came from Mayor Ted Wheeler and some of the commissioners.
A lot of people are angry there are planned cuts to the parks budget that could result in the closure of the Columbia Pool in the summer of 2020, and the shuttering of the Sellwood Community Center after this summer.
The mayor’s proposed budget also could mean dozens of layoffs for Portland Parks and Recreation employees. However, the department said they and the city’s Bureau of Human Resources are committed to finding potentially affected employees new positions within the parks department — or elsewhere in the city.
The budget for the Parks & Rec Department is more than $250 million, but the city said that’s not enough to cover all the current costs.
What we saw was a tense exchange between Wheeler and Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty over the Gun Violence Reduction Team. Hardesty wants to defund it, move the officers to patrol and use the money to help keep the jobs of parks employees.
Hardesty also proposed cutting funding for police body cameras to find $2 million to avoid park layoffs.
The heated part came when Hardesty fumbled on the team’s name and Wheeler challenged her. Hardesty asked for him to be sanctioned — and he apologized 3 times for getting so heated.
Hardesty even voted earlier to put aside a vote on raising the salaries of the commissioners.
The city budget is actually about 6% bigger than last year but the budgeters said salaries, retirement and health benefit costs keep going up as well.
There is money for new ways to help the mentally ill and homeless, including a Rapid Response Vehicle for firefighters to use instead of an engine for calls to homeless camps. There is also money to study a new 911 dispatch system where nurses help out with some calls, plus a street response unit instead of police to go to homeless calls.
There is $750,000 for more portable toilets in the city in this budget.
But some question items like $200,000 to study whether there should be a water taxi along the Willamette River.
The tensions between Wheeler, Hardesty and Chloe Eudaly over police funding are clearly a big issue. They expect to vote on some of these proposals and the full budget for next year on Thursday.
HOW CAN I LEARN MORE? Information on the proposed and recommended budgets are available on the City Budget Office’s website. Hardesty’s amendments had not been released by press time.
WHAT CAN I DO? Council members are accepting feedback at their offices.
The public can also to testify on the budget at the Tax Supervising and Conversation Committee hearing after the council vote on June 11, and then again June 12 when council formally adopts it.