Remember the whole "contract savings" debacle at City Hall after Mayor Sam Adams jumpstarted the Portland Bicycle Plan for 2030
with $20 million from the Bureau of Environmental Services?
How could you not? The bioswales-for-bicycle-boulevards funding scheme
generated confusion among city employees
and some residents, who railed against the mayor's plan in letters-to-the-editor in The Oregonian
and emails to elected officials.
All the while, debate ensued at City Hall about whether the concept of "contract savings" even existed. Typically when city bureaus have capital-improvement projects that come in under budget, bureau officials reallocate that money to other projects on their deferred maintenance lists. They've done that without huge amounts of scrutiny from City Hall historically.
Now Adams wants City Council to have more oversight power around that process.
Wonk alert! To achieve that oversight, the mayor wants to institute a two-times-a-year financial review of bureau's capital improvement budgets. City Council already does this once every four months with bureau's operating budgets.
Will this lead to more politicization of bureau's budgets? Some argue the bioswales-for-bicycle-boulevards move was a political gesture as much as anything else. Before Adams advanced the idea to use sewer money to build bioswales that support the Bike Plan, Commissioner Dan Saltzman
had suggested a more modest funding proposal for the plan that won the nod of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance. It didn't appear at the time the mayor much liked that one-upping.
"As a general matter it is always positive for both the bureaus and the Council to have regular looks [at their budgets,]" says Ty Kovatch, chief of staff to Commissioner Randy Leonard. But, he concedes, democracy means, "there's nothing that is exempt from politicization."
If City Council approves the mayor's capital improvements oversight plan, Adams will implement it in the fall.