Amid Record Revenue, Portland Mayor Charlie Hales Proposes Cuts to City Watchdog

Auditor Mary Hull Caballero criticizes the proposed cuts.

Lost, perhaps, amid the controversy of Mayor Charlie Hales' proposal Monday to raise taxes on Portland businesses and the hullabaloo over record city revenue that brings the city's 2016-17 budget to $510 million, was this fact: To redirect money to Hales' priorities, the mayor wants to make cuts in city government.

And those proposed cuts hit just one of the six elected officials at Portland City Hall—Portland's watchdog, City Auditor Mary Hull Caballero.

A spokeswoman for Hales, Sara Hottman, says the mayor is proposing to cut 5 percent from Caballero's budget for city audits, because analysts in the budget office decided "the division could absorb the workload without a significant loss of productivity."

Caballero says the $200,000 cut in her office, including the $120,000 cut in the audit services division, will reduce the number of audits her office can perform annually from 12 to 10. And she's not pleased.

The other elected officials took no cuts in their budgets under Hales' proposal, although Commissioner Amanda Fritz has said she will offer them up anyway. Mayor Hales, meanwhile, is proposing to spend $200,000 in general fund money on the proposed James Beard Public Market, a project of his former chief of staff who died in December.

The auditor's office, Caballero says, "is having its budget cut by the very people we hold accountable, and those are the same people who exempted themselves from cuts. Somewhere along the way, the auditor's office has come to be treated as just another bureau and it's not just another bureau."

Caballero doesn't get to vote on Hales' budget. But the mayor needs two others to pass it.

At a March 31 work session to talk about the auditor's budget, Commissioner Nick Fish hinted at his thinking (see video below).

"Of course we're not going to take a cut that reduces the ability to do audits of us," Fish told colleagues. "It's not good policy, and it would look terrible in a headline."

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