Commissioner Randy Leonard has asked for a $5.2 million loan from the City of Portland's general fund for his Bureau of Development Services,
whose reserve fund is dwindling, to help maintain staffing levels and buy a new computer system. As of July, the bureau's reserves stood at $8 million.
Leonard's ask comes at an difficult time amid the current recession. Last summer, BDS announced the need to lay off about half
of its then 300 employees.
But Leonard defended the timing of his ask during a City Council work session on Tuesday.
He said BDS needs additional funding to maintain its current staffing (in order to handle building inspections, etc). He also said it makes sense to invest in technology that streamlines BDS's building-permit process when staffing levels are low. Othewise, Leonard said, new efficiencies brought about by the tech changes would come with "a number of difficult labor issues to work with."
"Now is the time to strike," Leonard told his City Council colleagues.
The new computer system, if approved, would also let BDS digitize paper records and make BDS's services "more accessible."
Leonard proposed that BDS repay the $5.2 million loan with interest.
He also estimated it would take five years for BDS to return the money to the city's general fund. At that point, BDS would have recovered from the recession and would be "stuffing money back into reserves," Leonard predicted.
BDS currently gets about $2 million a year in general fund money. Its overall budget stands at $38 million.
Two hours of video from the work session are available online here.