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June 22nd, 2005 Zach Dundas | News Stories
 

COMING CONTRACTIONS

This year's budget on ice, City Council takes aim at next year.

     
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This Thursday, City Council puts Portland's budget to bed, finalizing $7 million in cuts after rookie Mayor Tom Potter's first number-crunching run through the $2 billion spending jungle. But city employees shouldn't rest easy just yet-here are the Council's five members' wish lists of spending cuts (nobody is talking about new taxes) to consider next time around.

Randy Leonard-the commissioner who most visibly enjoys playing budgetary bad cop-wants to shake savings out of the city's far-flung planning functions. Looming large: rejiggering the Parks Bureau's planning department, which Leonard says could save hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"It's not like these people are just sitting around reading the paper," Leonard says. "I just think it's a case of misdirected priorities. You can't responsibly plan for new parks when you can't take care of the ones you have."

Leonard says his concerns go beyond Parks and that now-scattered planning positions should be consolidated into, well, the Planning Bureau. "As it is, we have street planners doing work that sometimes conflicts with parks planners," he says.

Sam Adams also thinks personnel cuts are possible, especially among the Bureau of Environmental Services' management corps, where the council cut just one of 57 supervisor positions this time. But the newest commissioner's top priority is getting a handle on public-safety expenses by figuring out how Multnomah County and the city can share services.

Adams thinks county and city law enforcement can share computer resources, as they do now with the 911 emergency response.

"Let's outline the public safety we want and let the local entities that exist bid on doing it," he says, noting the county's 1.25 percent income tax will die next year, when the city faces $10 million more in cuts.

"This isn't something we should do because it's nice," he says. "We're going to have to do it."

Dan Saltzman and Erik Sten are focused on the city's escalating health-care costs, a topic that will arise before next year's budgeting even begins. To compound matters, the city can no longer rely on a now-depleted reserve fund to cover increases. "Health care is the elephant in the living room," says Sten.

Union agreements that cover health costs are up for negotiation -and the two commissioners want to reduce expenses. Adding incentives to encourage healthier lifestyles (and thus lower premiums) could help, but both say a comprehensive solution will require hardball bargaining and creativity.

Saltzman notes that agreements with police and fire unions require the city to pick up 95 percent of insurance premiums-with no spending cap. He wants to press for a cap. ("Police and fire always have to have the same thing," Saltzman says. "It's a testosterone thing for both sides.")

Sten wants to bring in Oregon Health & Science University to help city employees get healthier. He also wants to explore other cost-cutting ideas ranging from using fire stations for routine tests and shots to bulk purchasing of prescription drugs.

And as for Potter? The mayor's Chief of Staff, Nancy Hamilton, says Potter wants to move beyond laundry lists of cuts to more big-picture thinking. For example, could latte stands in parks pay to keep bathrooms clean? And what about the nearly $1 million spent on city employee travel? "Those are the kinds of questions we need to ask," Hamilton says. "We're not at the point where we can fix things by cutting this dumb program or that dumb program. We've done that."


The City Council is scheduled to adopt the 2005-06 budget Thursday, June 23, at 9:30 am.
 
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