PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – After hundreds of people voiced their opinions on how Portland should spend its historic budget surplus of $62 million, the Portland City Council is nearing a vote on the overall budget.
The council met Wednesday to discuss the city’s Budget Monitoring Process, as funding for the homeless crisis and community safety are on the line.
About 279 people signed up for public comment ahead of the meeting on how to spend the budget surplus — half of which is available to spend during the fall BMP.
The lengthy public comment followed amendments proposed by commissioners. The vote on the Fall BMP is now set for November 17.
The majority of the public commenters expressed frustration over inaction by city leaders on the issues of homelessness and public safety.
“Over the past year we’ve seen dangerous forms of meth. No one feels safe in Old Town right now, we have to do something,” Elizabeth Nye said. “If all of you and our county leaders commit together to work as a team I know we can make Portland safe again for all of its residents.”
During a budget meeting in early November, Mayor Ted Wheeler announced his top priorities which include allocating around $18.9 million to address homelessness, $7 million for community safety, and $2.2 million for economic recovery.
With much of the proposal’s money going toward homelessness, Wheeler explained where the plan targets that money, including increasing capacity to do outreach work, offering storage services and hygiene solutions and funding greater capacity in the behavioral health unit, which responds to people having a behavioral health crisis.
The mayor said it also allows for a five-fold increase in camp cleanups, returning the city to pre-pandemic operation levels and creates a street coordination center to monitor shelters in real-time allowing first responders and outreach workers to offer a bed that they know is available.
The proposal also creates 400 additional beds in the transitional shelter system. There wasn’t a lot of debate during the meeting, but Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty did question whether the city was getting value out of the money that was already being spent to tackle homelessness.
“I’m concerned we’re locking ourselves into commitment, not locking ourselves into deals with one time money,” Hardesty said of the surplus.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Hardesty proposed an amendment so if the retire/rehire program is approved, only officers who did not retire to avoid investigations, or were under investigations at retirement could be rehired.
In October, Commissioner Carmen Rubio told KOIN 6 News that safety and housing should be a budgetary priority.
“You’re going to be seeing probably a big focus on our housing crisis,” she told KOIN 6 News. “We need to make sure there’s adequate housing for all income levels,” Rubio said.
Additionally, Commissioner Mingus Mapps praised Commissioner Dan Ryan — the other first-time BMP voter — for his effort behind the Safe Rest Village initiative. But Mapps also said the City Council has not moved fast enough when it comes to combating crime and homelessness.
“The Fall BMP is our opportunity to turn this around and speed things up,” he told KOIN 6 News.
During the Fall BMP work session in October, Mapps said he’ll press for a proposal that would double the city’s capacity to pick up trash.
“I want to see that proposal pass and one of the things I want to see is us to focus in on hitting the litter and needles and human excrement picked up from the streets of downtown,” he said.
He’ll also advocate to expand PPB’s Behavioral Health Unit as well as urging PPB to step up downtown patrols.
“I know some of our cultural institutions in the downtown area are really reeling beneath the weight of tents and mental illness and violence and trash and shouldn’t have to wait another budget cycle to get that fixed,” he said.
That’s one thing that’s holding back a Portland recovery right now, he said.
“Our downtown is literally wounded and won’t be able to heal until we help heal the people on the streets and get the litter picked up and help replace some of these broken windows and get back to the Portland that we all know and love,” Mapps said.