East Portland neighbors speak up at City Budget hearings

See what happened, when the Portland City Council announced that the only east side budget hearings would be held in outer East Portland …

It is “standing room only” inside IRCO, when the Portland City Council convenes its only east-side budget hearing.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
The first formal meeting of the newly-reconfigured Portland City Council took place on the evening of March 6, at the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization (IRCO), 10301 NE Glisan Street.

Before it, and as this Portland Community Budget Forum began, people from all over outer East Portland streamed into the gymnasium, filling nearly every seat. Officials from City Bureaus lined the walls of the large room, as the meeting got underway just past 6:30 p.m.

Members of the Portland City Council prepare to convene their first Budget Forum of the season.

“We are here because this is the official beginning of our budget season,” said Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish, setting the stage for the event.

“This is our first community meeting, to talk about the challenges we face this year with a $25 million ‘hole’ in our budget,” Fish told East Portland News. “And, we’ll be talking about some of the options to close this budget gap.”

Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish says he and his colleagues are there to ask for the community’s help, as they work to set spending priorities.

Asked if the testimony given really makes a difference to Commissioners when they’re looking at their Bureaus’ budgets, Fish responded, “As in the past, well-organized groups, with a convincing argument, will have the ability to help shape our budget priorities.”

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales disclosed that the City had decided to hold a budget meeting in the mid-County area “because there are a lot of people in outer East Portland who care about what the City does – or doesn’t do. They’re showing up in great numbers tonight.  I think it really affirms our decision to have it held here.”

Public testimony at Budget Forums really does make a difference, Mayor Charlie Hales says.

Hales affirmed Fish’s sentiment that City officials take neighbors’ opinions to heart.

“Their testimony does make a difference,” Hales told East Portland News.  “I think it really does. I think we have a council that genuinely wants to listen.

“We have hard choices to make, about what to cut and what o hold on to,” Hales added. “What people care about will weigh heavily upon our decisions.”

Kicking off the meeting, Commissioners Steve Novick, Amanda Fritz, Mayor Charlie Hales, Commissioners Nick Fish, and Dan Saltzmen briefly introduced themselves.

Portland City Commissioner Amanda Fritz asks the audiences for suggestions to help “make ends meet” in the City’s budget.

“The reality is that we do not currently have enough money to pay for everything we want to pay for,” commented Commissioner Amanda Fritz. “In fact we don’t have enough money to pay for a lot of things we want to pay for.

“We want to make things work for as many people as possible,” Fritz continued. “And, how are we going to work together to prioritize? Tell us you care about the things you care about. Then give suggestions on what else we can do to make ends meet. We are all in this together.”

Portland’s City Budget Director, Andrew Scott, describes the nature of the $25 million “ongoing shortfall” – meaning that all Bureaus must cut funds and programs from their budgets.

Next up was City Budget Director Andrew Scott, who described the fiscal situation the City now faces.

“The City of Portland is facing a $25 million ongoing shortfall for next year,” Scott began.

He outlined what he called “three major causes” for this shortfall:

1. The passage of the Multnomah County Library District, causing some “tax compression”.

Measure 5, which passed in 1991, and Measure 50 that passed in 1997, together put limits on property taxes, Scott explained.

“These measures specifically limit the amount of permanent taxes that can be charged by local government. By moving the Library District outside a levy, outside of those caps and into a permanent [tax] rate which is under those caps – all of the jurisdictions within the permanent rate, already, will have their taxes compressed because of those caps.”

2. Costs resulting from the Department of Justice investigation of the Portland Police Bureau

Includes the treatment of the mentally ill, and implementation of reforms, which will cost roughly $5 million.

3. The Portland City Council was to provide $8.4 million in ongoing funding

The funding is for  some housing programs, economic development programs and some Office of Neighborhood Involvement programs that have not received ongoing funding in the past.

“And, there are some small economic changes in addition to that,” Scott continued. “So, as a result, because we’re facing a shortfall, Mayor Hales asked the Bureaus to submit their budgets at 90% of their current service level.”

Scott said the Mayor asked Bureau heads to decide which programs to keep, and wgich to drop. “Then, they’re allowed to ask for that 10% back – essentially make their case – against the other Bureaus,” for that funding,” Scott explained.

The audience, and the Portland City Council, listen as Ronault LS “Polo” Catalani from the City’s New Portlander Programs advocates that his office’s funding be spared cuts.

Big cuts listed
Major City Bureaus released their lists of programs they might potentially cut to meet their 10% reduction in spending

Police Bureau:

  • Property crime investigations
  • School police
  • Family services
  • Mounted patrol & patrol officers


Fire & Rescue:

  • Close six Fire & Rescue stations
  • Training & safety programs


Office of Neighborhood Involvement:

  • Free graffiti removal
  • Crime prevention
  • Neighborhood projects


For nearly two hours, the commissioners listened to testimony from people advocating for programs in which they were involved, or which affect those who participate in their organizations or communities.

Mike Vander Veen doesn’t hide his support for the East Portland Action Plan, as he sits next to David Douglas Schools Board Member, Position 7, Frieda J. Christopher, during the City Budget Hearings.

Many people in the audience wore signs, hung round their necks with string, urging the Council members to “Fully Fund $279,692” for the East Portland Action Plan.

During the testimony, Scott told East Portland News that all of the City’s Bureaus have already submitted their budgets, and that they’ve been reviewed by the City Budget Office.

“We will be having more budget meetings coming up at the end of March and the first of April,” Scott said. “The Mayor will do his proposed budget by the end of April; I think he’s targeting April 30.”

Then, Council will have a month to consider that, and make any additional changes. The budget must be in place before the end of the City’s fiscal year on June 30.

On into the night, the Portland City Council listens to testimony during their East Portland Budget Forum.

Scott said the City was setting up a way for people to comment online – but, so far, that link has not been available. However, you can learn a great deal more about the budget process at their website: CLICK HERE to open it.

© 2013 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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