Little East Portland impact seen from Parks’ budget cuts

While it appears the Parks Bureau might shutter some beloved Southeast Community Centers, outer East Portland facilities may not be affected …

At the meeting held in the Hazelwood neighborhood of outer East Portland, Portland Parks & Recreation Community Engagement Specialist Anny Hsiao provides check-in information to an arriving participant.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

Those concerned about the future of their neighborhood Community Centers or programs traveled to the Sokhom Tauch Community Center at the Immigrant & Refugee Community on NE Glisan Street, on the evening of January 4, for a meeting that Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R) entitled, “What is the ‘Right Budget’ for Parks?”

PP&R meeting promotional outreach made it clear that permanently shuttering both the Sellwood and Woodstock community centers was once again, as usual, among the budgetary choices the Bureau faces this year.

PP&R Director Mike Abbaté looks over notes, preparing for the evening’s public budget meeting.

PP&R Director Mike Abbaté set the stage for East Portland News before the meeting began.

“Tonight, we’re sharing with the public some ideas that we have for ways that we can align this Bureau’s budget with the Mayor’s and the City Council’s direction for preparing the Portland City Budget this year,” Abbaté explained. “We were asked to submit a requested budget that includes a 5%, or $3.2 million, reduction – so, we’re here to put some of those ideas out to people, and get feedback from citizens about which are the ‘right things’ we should be cutting and, alternatively, what things we should we be cutting.”

Participants listen to a presentation describing this year’s city budget shortfall, which officials say requires General Fund Bureaus to cut their budgets.

The Parks Bureau Director said that the Portland Budget Office revealed in December that, based on a new December economic forecast, it was projecting about a $4.5 million ongoing deficit for the entire city budget. But it got worse: Adding in city contributions to the Multnomah County Joint Office of Homeless Services, that gap may be as much as $14 or $15 million. In a telephone interview after the meeting, Portland Budget Office Director Andrew Scott verified these figures.

“So, along with all other ‘General Fund Bureaus’ that have been asked to make cuts of 5%, we’ve compiled about twenty packages of various kinds, affecting all parts of our organization,” Abbaté commented.

Portland City Commissioner Amanda Fritz, the “Parks Bureau Commissioner”, welcomes attendees to the meeting, and thanks them for speaking up for their programs.

Observing that some City Bureaus make their cuts with little public process, Portland City Commissioner Amanda Fritz, the Parks Bureau  remarked, “I believe it’s better to work in a more collaborative manner, because people are sometimes more understanding, and more accepting, if they understand what’s happening, and why.

“And, also our community advocates are some of the best people to tell the Portland City Council what they want, and why we should fund it,” Fritz said.

The meeting was more than just “window dressing” in the decision-making process, Fritz explained. “People do make a difference when they show up and advocate for their programs, whether or not they’re on our ‘cut list’ – because we won’t be sure about this until the very last vote.”

Parks Bureau Director Abbaté outlines how the budget discussion will take place.

As the meeting got underway, Parks Bureau Director Abbaté told the group of about 100 attendees, “Our city government wants to be looking at other ways of improving what we do, and we are complying with the directives, as are other Bureaus.

“We’re not advocating for one cut or another; we’ve looked at our entire budget and the entire list of things that we do, and we have worked with our Budget Advisory Committee to get input on our most important values; this list has come from those discussions,” Abbaté said.

Those attending the public meeting were invited to join one of three groups to discuss the proposals:

  • Service Area A – Asset Management, Director’s Office/Operations and Strategies
  • Service Area B – Land Stewardship and Urban Forestry
  • Service Area C – Recreation, Equity and Inclusion.

During and after the group discussions, participants were instructed to complete lengthy ballots to indicate their preferences, given the available choices.

Attendees are asked to study information provided, and then vote their selections on individual ballots.

Commissioner Fritz thanked long-time Parks advocate Linda Robinson for agreeing to cancel a meeting of the outer East Portland Parks Coalition, so folks who usually attend that one could be at this meeting.

After the meeting Robinson, speaking for herself and not the East Portland Parks Coalition, pointed out that “cut packages” #8, #19, and #30 were of most concern to her.

Cut Package #8
“This would reduce weekend coverage at the Customer Service Office,” Robinson pointed out. “This would eliminate the person who answers incoming calls to Park Rangers on weekends; they’d go to an answering machine, instead of to a person who currently passes along the messages to the Rangers, giving the Rangers a quick sense of which ones are urgent.

“My concern is that this will increase the response time considerably, especially for situations with some urgency – and, response time is already slow in East Portland; it could get even worse.”

Cut Package #19
Regional Trails Service Reduction. Since this would include the Springwater Corridor (half of which is in East Portland), this could have serious impacts for us.

Linda Robinson, Chair of the East Portland Parks Coalition, looks over materials provided by the Parks Bureau at the meeting.

Cut Package #30
Eliminating fountains is estimated to save the Parks Bureau about $500k Robinson noted.

“It troubles me that they continue to lump the interactive fountains together with the strictly decorative fountains, which serve a very different function in the community, saying that interactive fountains are much more expensive to maintain, in part because they need to make sure they are safe for people to use.

“For many years, fountain maintenance was the responsibility of the Portland Water Bureau, until it was transferred to the Parks Bureau a few years ago, due to a lawsuit challenging the legality of using ratepayer monies for this purpose,” Robinson said.

“That lawsuit has been resolved, with a decision that it is not illegal for the Water Bureau to maintain them,” Robinson observed. “Ever since that legal decision, PP&R has been trying to get [the fountains] transferred back to the Water Bureau,” she said.

Briefly, Robinson’s comments on other issues include:

In Cut Package #3, Robinson questioned the wisdom of Central Services eliminating a plumber position, reducing the total from four to three to service all Parks properties.

Reducing cleaning of downtown restrooms, from twice daily to once daily, as proposed in Cut Package #12, saves about $88,000 a year and seems reasonable to her, Robinson commented, when most parks’ restrooms get cleaned much less frequently – if they even have a restroom.

Outdoor Water Use Reduction in Cut Package #13, with two components, leaves her with questions. It seems reasonable to reduce water use for irrigation by 10%; but it also means reducing the number of hours that splash pads are operable.”

Proposals to increase fees for private park use makes sense to her, but the package also seems to include Community Gardens, an inclusion which she questions.

Shifting costs of utilities to the Parks Bureau’s “Partner Organizations” – such as Children’s Museum, Pittock Mansion and Pioneer Courthouse Square – were noted; not mentioned was how this would negatively affect Leach Botanical Garden

Eliminating the Bureau’s “Protect the Best” program would cut the position of the person who work often works in outer East Portland natural areas.

Gathered around tables, participants consider proposed cuts to the Parks Bureau budget.

This was the last Parks Bureau public meeting scheduled, regarding budget decisions. The Portland Budget Office has not yet released further dates for upcoming public budget meetings.

© 2018 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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