‘City Budget Forums’ give East Portlanders a chance to comment

Discover what influence neighbors were allowed, when they sat down with City leaders and department heads for more than two hours, during two of these meetings …

Laurel Butman, Principal Management Analyst with the City of Portland Office of Management and Finance, and the coordinator of the citywide budget outreach meetings, checks in staff members.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
The first round of City of Portland Community Budget Forums concluded early in March.

At the March 3rd event, held at the Mt. Scott Community Center, Laurel Butman, Principal Management Analyst with the City of Portland Office of Management and Finance, and the coordinator of the city-wide budget outreach meetings, commented that the forums help Portland City Council members better know what’s on the minds of citizens.

“These meetings are held before the City Council begins their City budget process,” Butman said. “This is extremely important, because it provides an opportunity for Council members to hear from the community early-on in the process, before the decisions have been made. And, these forums also educate the community about the decisions the Council has to make.”

In addition to City Council members being present to answer questions and talk with citizens during the meetings, each of the discussion tables was led by Bureau chiefs, representing all major segments of City government. “Because citizens work with Bureau chiefs directly, they make connections that they may find valuable in the future,” Butman observed.

Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish welcomes attendees to the Mt. Scott Budget Forum.

City Council members proclaim forum’s importance
“As the President of the Council, I’m standing in for the Mayor who’s not able to attend this evening,” began Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish. “We’re asking people to help us do the hard work of figuring out where we cut our budgets.”

Asked if the forums are a genuine part of their budget decision-making – or simply window dressing – Fish replied, “These forums have a direct impact on the choices we make. We really get good information. And, we get a lot of constructive feedback.”

Members from the Portland City Council were present at these meetings, insisting that they gather important information from them.

Amanda Fritz complemented those who attended, saying, “It’s wonderful that Portlanders care enough about their City to help us decide how to spend taxpayers’ money. The forums give grassroots, front-line people the opportunity to talk about what they care about the most, when we spend their money.”

Recognizing that some people weren’t able to attend, Fritz went on, “It really matters to us that people show up [to the forums]. But we also take into account those who send letters, e-mails, and make phone calls. It’s all part of the process; we look at all aspects, as we work on the budget.”

Andrew Scott, the Financial Planning Manager at the City of Portland’s Office of Management and Finance, outlines the budget process.

City Finance manager outlines process
After introductions by City Council members, Andrew Scott – the Financial Planning Manager at the City of Portland’s Office of Management and Finance – began outlining the process to the approximately 80 attendees. “We’ll go over the ‘adds’, the ‘cuts’, and hopefully try to balance the budget out at the end.”

“The Portland City Counsel has already asked most Bureaus to make cuts of 4%; public safety has been asked to cut 2%,” Scott explained. “It’s important to consider where those cuts will be made; they affect levels of service, going forward.”

“‘Adds’ are new programs – and those will also be under close scrutiny,” Scott said.

> To read our story of Andrew Scott’s “Portland City Budget 101 Class” he presented in conjunction with the East Portland Action Plan, CLICK HERE.

Portland Mayor Sam Adams shares a light moment with Ruth Hander, Madison South Neighborhood Association’s Chair, at the IRCO forum on March 6.

Informal discussions, centered on the City Budget Workbook, take place at tables at the outer Northeast Portland forum.

Decisions made in small group discussions
With six to eight attendees seated around tables, a City discussion facilitator led the group through a questionnaire, and recorded a consensus of opinions regarding which programs should be added to the City budget, and which should be cut.

At the conclusion of the meeting, a representative from each table reported their table’s results, and participants took a survey, using remote control voting devices.

The Portland Water Bureau’s Director, David Schaff (center), participates in a discussion at the outer East Portland meeting.

Fifty voice their opinion in outer East Portland
Three days later, folks in outer East Portland had their opportunity to participate at a similar Saturday afternoon session held at the IRCO Community Space, located at 10301 NE Glisan Street.

About 50 citizens came to that meeting. Following the same format, people learned about the City’s budget process, met Bureau chiefs and City Commissioners, and participated in these same exercises.

To review outcomes from the Forum session, and to follow the budget process, the City of Portland has set up an official city website: CLICK HERE to view it.

Mark White, President of the Powellhurst-Gilbert Neighborhood Association, participates in a discussion at the IRCO forum.

© 2010 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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