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February 9th, 2011 BETH SLOVIC | City Hall
 

Wishing Upon A Surplus

City finds money for shoulder-fired tasers, schools and other projects.

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If you haven’t heard Mayor Sam Adams say it already, gird yourself for his boast that Portland will have a budget surplus.

And that surplus of about $3.5 million in the fiscal year that starts July 1 means the City Council may also approve modest new spending from Portland’s $383 million general fund when commissioners vote on the city’s budget in June.

Among the small-ticket items commissioners will consider—barring any changes to the financial forecast—are new gadgets for police, a program to benefit the city’s largest high school and plans to fix bugs in the city’s computer system.

Here are a few highlights from bureau officials’ Jan. 31 budget requests:

PUBLIC SAFETY

On Jan. 7, following a string of fatal shootings involving officers, Portland Police Chief Mike Reese and Adams vowed to explore new training techniques and weapons—ones that police call “less lethal.”

Among the tools under consideration as the bureau prepares its $160 million budget are so-called TigerLights and shoulder-fired Tasers. The TigerLight, the invention of Portland Sgt. Randy Teig, is a flashlight with a hidden pepper-spray canister that can “drop a 250-pound man to his knees,” according to the Utah maker of the weapon, a company run by Teig’s brother. That’s not the flashlight’s only distinguishing feature, however. The TigerLight also has a high-powered strobe to disorient suspects.

The new $600 Tasers have cartridges capable of firing up to 80 feet, instead of the current 21 feet. The greater distance would give officers extra protection, proponents say.

A November report from City Auditor LaVonne Griffin-Valade calls Portland’s use of Tasers “mostly effective.” But the weapons, which have been used in Portland against an autistic teen and, more recently, a sleeping diner, have their critics. “They’re called ‘less lethal,’” says Dan Handelman of Portland Copwatch. “They’re not called ‘nonlethal.’”

MENTAL HEALTH

A $106,000 pilot program in the Police Bureau to pair a mental health worker with a patrol officer ends April 30 after a one-year experiment.

But Reese would like to maintain and possibly grow the program “to improve responses to people suffering from mental illness and extreme emotional distress.” 

Expanding the pilot would require adding a new position for a clinical supervisor “to capture meaningful data” on the effort.

EDUCATION

Having already given $200,000 last year to Portland Public Schools for renovation of the athletic complex at Roosevelt High School, and another $35,000 to Parkrose School District to help the Northeast Portland district implement a new disciplinary program, Adams now wants to donate $100,000 to a third school district inside city limits: David Douglas.

As part of his $1.2 million budget for education, the mayor proposes giving the money to the Southeast Portland district to create a SUN Community School at its high school, one of the largest in Oregon. The 60 SUN schools (the acronym stands for “Schools Uniting Neighborhoods”) in the Portland area are managed by Multnomah County. But the after-school programs get a small portion of money from the City of Portland. Reached Friday, Feb. 4, David Douglas Superintendent Don Grotting didn’t know about Portland’s possible gift. 

TECHNOLOGY OVERSIGHT

The recently completed effort to consolidate payroll and other financial data across the city cost about $47 million—more than three times what Portland officials once expected. 

Begun in 2004, the technology upgrade also took longer than expected to implement. And now there’s fresh evidence that bureaus continue to struggle with the new computer system.

The Bureau of Transportation wants to add three permanent positions to its staff, at a cost of $210,000, to deal with timekeeping and payroll hiccups with the new technology.

 
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