Revenues from business license fees in Portland have dropped sharply, according to the city's latest financial forecast.
As a result, city agencies must make even deeper cuts than expected, city commissioners say. In some cases, that means bureaus will be slashing more than 5 percent from their budgets for the next fiscal year, when just weeks ago they were preparing for the possibility of trimming only 2.5 percent.
Not all agencies are created equal, however. And the revenue dip in the city's business license fees that generate about 10 percent of the city's overall budget will probably spare some bureaus.
Case in point: the Portland Police Bureau.
On Feb. 2, all of Portland's bureaus must submit budget outlines that show which programs they could cut to help save an estimated total of $15 million. If the Police Bureau cut 5 percent, it would lose $7 million, says Bob Del Gizzi of the bureau's finance office.
But the guiding assumption at City Hall going into budget talks next month is that the Police Bureau ultimately won't face severe budget reductions. As the city addresses a newly reignited gang war, keeping police officers on the streets at their current staffing level of about 900 remains a priority for City Commissioner Dan Saltzman, who manages the bureau.
Programs to curb domestic violence and prevent child abuse also rank among the bureau's highest concerns because the number of officers, sergeants and detectives is down compared with decades earlier.
"Obviously we think public safety is a pretty important service," says Saltzman chief of staff Brendan Finn. "But we're going to come in prepared to make a 5 percent cut." Whether Mayor Sam Adams will accept those decreases—with community leaders clamoring for help on gangs—when he announces his proposed budget in April is a different matter.
Wade Nkrumah, a spokesman for Mayor Sam Adams, did not respond to WW's emailed questions.
Now on the city's list of proposed cuts is the Police Bureau's Mounted Patrol Unit, which includes nine horses, six police officers and one sergeant.
This doesn't surprise Sgt. Scott Westerman, president of the Portland Police Association. He says there is widespread misunderstanding about the unit's effectiveness. "Every time budget cuts are discussed, they talk about the horses," Westerman says. "People don't realize what the horse patrol does."
The mounted patrol provides crowd control at special events as well as old-fashioned police work downtown.
The largest cost of the program, by far, is people. Yet cutting the program doesn't automatically end Portland's obligation to pay the unit's members, who probably would be shifted to other programs where they would displace other, less senior officers.
"We need more bodies," Westerman says. "Period."
That may be true. But it's also true that Portland needs to find $15 million in savings by the time the City Council adopts its new budget in June.
This round of cuts follows several years of relatively flush coffers and marks the first time in three budget cycles that City Hall has not enjoyed a budget surplus.
Officer Greg Pashley with the mounted police says it would be a mistake to cut the unit because it promotes positive community relationships.
"No one ever came up to pet my car," Pashley says.
The Mounted Patrol Unit, which includes a full-time trainer, is at 1362 NW Naito Parkway.