Portland budget process faces unprecedented circumstances

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City officials stress recovery will be slow

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PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Portland officials presented a preview Monday of how Mayor Ted Wheeler’s proposed budget may look with a look into the process.

The focus was providing transparency into how the coronavirus pandemic will effect the economy. Wheeler’s proposal–slated to be revealed on Thursday–will largely reflect the toll the virus has taken on government resources.

“We are in highly unusual and uncertain times financially,” said City Budget Office Director Jessica Kinard. “We typically plan for the adoption of the annual budget over an eight-month long period.”

“This process is long because we want budget development to be thoughtful, accurate and informed.”

The annual budget timeline begins in late October or early November when the mayor’s budget guideline is released. Following months of analysis, reviews, events and work sessions, the mayor then releases a proposed budget at the beginning of May. In mid-June, the City Council takes action to adopt a finalized budget.

In late September of 2019, Wheeler anticipated having no budget cuts for the first time since the 2015-16 fiscal year. His Budget Guidance report also allowed for bureaus to request new general fund resources and directed them to collaborate on “key priority” areas like the homeless crisis and climate change. In fact, the general fund forecast as of February included a total of $28.5 million in anticipated, new general and discretionary fund resources.

COVID-19’s rapid spread into Portland in March changed things dramatically.

“The financial picture is still very much evolving,” said Kinard. “We had to balance the budget to a new reality.”

Upon Governor Kate Brown declaring a State of Emergency on March 8, City Economist Josh Harwood was tasked with providing the City Council with an updated forecast on April 21. Hardwood said one major blow to the city was the extension of the tax deadline to July 15 because the city collects a majority of business income taxes following the normal April 15 deadline.

“Ultimately, we expect about $75 million less in the general fund revenue [for] the fiscal year 2020-21 than we did just two months ago,” Harwood said. “This equates to about a 13% decrease.”

KOIN 6 News will stream Wheeler’s presentation of the proposed budget at 11:30 a.m. Thursday.

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