City officials grapple with COVID-plagued budget

Civic Affairs

Officials say cannabis tax and vacant jobs helping budget planning

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — City Commissioners and Mayor Ted Wheeler held a meeting Tuesday to assess the city’s budget and discuss how taxpayer dollars can be better spent moving forward.

Wheeler presented a list of changes he would like to make in the current budget. The mayor stated he wanted to use more than $3 million in federal funds to provide hundreds more shelter beds and more than $1 million for rent assistance. On Monday, the mayor said in the next week his office will have added 300 new homeless shelter beds to the city and said more help is on the way.

To do that Wheeler wants to tap into $2 million of the money set aside for the Portland Street Response program, a new program where EMTs and social workers respond instead of police on some 911 mental health calls.

“I am really appalled the mayor is defunding the Portland Street Response to deal with houseless issues,” Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty said.

But the head of the Street Response Program explained it will still be a while before the program gets going. Wheeler said money will still remain to make that happen, but there are unused dollars as well.

“Frankly we need more resources and those resources are on the way,” he told KOIN 6 News. “They already passed the housing fund…I think that will be good for us going forward.”

Additionally, Wheeler asked for expanded garbage and litter collection.

And there are worries the housing situation will get worse when January rolls around and the eviction moratorium is due to expire.

Portland’s budget runs from July to July, but every few months officials look to see if changes can be made based on the current climate.

Portland Bureau of Emergency Management’s Mike Myers chimed in Tuesday to support a request for $8 million to feed people in need.

“We need to feed people and it is one my number one priorities, personally,” said Myers. “But, I also understand the needs to balance the budget. These are tough decisions.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in City job losses and minimal tax revenue. However, a higher than expected amount of money is coming in from the cannabis tax and several bureaus said they are saving money by not filling the hundreds of vacant positions.

Wheeler also said he wants the City Council to approve continued support for Portland’s COVID-19 Coordination Center — a nearly $300,000 request.

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