Parks Bureau budget cuts debated in East Portland

Find out why Portland Parks & Recreation is again being told to cut its budget, even for outer East Portland programs – and even though tax revenues are up …

Interested people from all over the area arrived to comment on how budget cuts would affect Portland Parks & Recreation programs and facilities.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

The second of two public meetings about the Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R) requested budget took place at the Mt. Scott Community Center on the evening of January 4.

“We’re meeting with the community to get their input on what we should submit in our budget that meets the direction that Mayor Ted Wheeler and the Portland City Council have given us,” PP&R Director Mike Abbaté, before the meeting began in the Center’s auditorium.

“We were told to put together our annual budget to include least a 1% cut, but possibly as high as 5%,” Abbaté said. “What we are doing today is asking for the community’s help in identifying what kind of things should be in those budget cuts,” he told East Portland News.

Making cuts is difficult for the Bureau Abbaté acknowledged. “One of the things about Portland Parks & Recreation is that almost everything we do, every program and facility, is loved dearly by a group of folks.”

Funds from the 2014 Portland Parks & Recreation Replacement Bond Measure can’t help make up the shortfall, Abbaté explained. “It gave us about $68 million to fix our parks – and we had at that time around $400 million in repairs that were needed. The list of things that need to be done is far longer than the bond funds provided by the measure could cover.”

Portland City Parks Commissioner Amanda Fritz tells how difficult cuts to the PP&R budget are to make, while Director Mike Abbaté looks on.

During the formal program, Abbaté provided an overview of the upcoming City of Portland budget. His presentation showed that $8.3 million in additional revenues will be coming into the city over the next fiscal year from property taxes and business licenses.

But, there $12.3 million in additional commitments, including:

  • $6.6 million in increased police pay
  • $3.5 million additional housing
  • $1.2 million for financing campaigns (passed by the voters)
  • $1 million due to changes in overhead

 

“This creates $4 million ‘funding gap’, which is why Bureaus are being asked to cut their budgets,” Abbaté told the about 120 people at the meeting.

“When we’re making cuts we also look at ‘equity and inclusion’,” Commissioner Fritz added to that. “There is an ‘equity criterion’ on all the packages they’ll be discussing tonight,” she said.

A former PP&R “Summer Free for All” employee David Chen recalls working on summertime movie and concert events with long-time parks advocate Linda Robinson.

Although she’s now the East Portland Parks Coalition Chair, and was a member of the PP&R Budget Advisory Committee for years, Linda Robinson emphasized to East Portland News that she was speaking as a resident who has a love for parks, and not in any official capacity.

“I don’t have really strong feelings about most of the proposed cuts – and it appears to me that they will only have about a 1% cut, rather than 5%, depending on the updated economic forecast,” Robinson said.

  • Looking over the list, Robinson said that she does approve of:
  • Cutting funds that pay for removing dead or dying Elm street trees;
  • Closing Buckman Pool, saying it’s old, small, and expensive to maintain; and,
  • Discontinuing mowing the Portland Public School grounds.

 

Maintenance of decorative fountains is a unique situation – one of them is in outer East Portland, on the traffic island between SE Stark and Washington streets near 106th Avenue – Robinson conceded.

Maintenance of these fountains was transferred to PP&R by the Portland Water Bureau, when it was involved in litigation about using ratepayer monies to pay for their operation. “That lawsuit has since been resolved – in favor of the Water Bureau,” Robinson remarked. “So, why not just transfer them back to the Water Bureau, and remove this cost PP&R’s General Fund budget?”

She was also concerned about a proposal to install automatic locking devices on all restroom doors, instead of having a Park Ranger drive from park to park to physically lock each one. “Personally, I’m thinking the presence of the Ranger to open them each morning and lock them each evening isn’t a bad thing, because they have an opportunity to see what’s going on in each of the parks, and make sure they’re not being used for drug transactions, prostitution, vandalism, etc.”

When it comes to the “Summer Free for All” funding, Robinson said she “reluctantly” supports a reevaluation of the program.

“I was assured by the Bureau’s Culture and Special Events Manager, Soo Pak, they don’t plan to cut any of the free lunch programs, and that there will no cut to the East Portland Concerts at Ventura Park – and  there probably won’t be any cuts to the number of Movies in the Park in East Portland either,” Robinson explained.

“It’s just that the program has grown beyond PP&R’s ability to staff it,” she added, that for example, providing the “climbing wall” at so many locations during the summer is really quite expensive.

“They also want to make some changes in how they select ‘Mobile Playground’ program sites – because some of the sites have had very low attendance,” Robinson added.

Attendees gather in groups to discuss the Parks Bureau budget topics.

The “Public Budget Survey” closed on January 9, and the Parks Bureau is to deliver its “Requested Budget” on January 30.

As in past years, the Portland Budget Office will then hold Public Budget Forums; one on April 11, and another on April 18. The locations of those hearings have not yet been announced.

When the meeting times and locations are announced, those interested can go and speak up for the Community Centers and other Parks Bureau programs they hold dear.

Learn more about the PP&R budget process at their official webpage: CLICK HERE.

© 2017 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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