Portland Parks & Recreation is considering asking voters for a hefty sum of money on the November ballot.
Earlier this month, the bureau spent $36,000 on a poll designed to determine voters' appetites for two different options: first, a $700 million capital bond "to fix Portland's playgrounds, trails; and improve park and recreation facilities, including safety and accessibility improvements."
The second option the pollster, FM3 Research, tested is "a $44 million-per-year, five-year temporary operating levy to prevent ongoing reductions to Portland Parks & Recreation services and programs, including keeping neighborhood parks clean and green and providing lifesaving swim lessons and fitness, arts and senior programs, environmental education, and a summer playground program serving free lunches to children in need."
The polling found that a high percentage of respondents are satisfied with parks services (83%) but less satisfied with the way the agency spends tax dollars (58%).
Voters responded more positively to the opening levy, with 63% saying yes to a full description of what it would pay for, while 57% say they would support the capital bond.
Mayor Ted Wheeler took over the parks bureau from late Commissioner Nick Fish, who died in January. Fish had been working to put the bureau on more solid financial footing, and Wheeler has continued that push and hopes an operating levy will help restore programming.
Wheeler and parks director Adena Long told Portlanders in an email today that many of the services and programs normally available during the summer cannot be offered due to COVID-19. Because the bureau charges user fees for much of its summer offerings, the cancellations worsen the bureau's financial picture and may lead to closures next summer, as well.
"With facilities and programs closed since early March, we have missed months of the revenues that allow us to provide the recreation experience Portlanders cherish," the email said. "This financial domino effect means that, as things stand today, we are likely unable to open pools and community centers, or offer classes, camps and swimming lessons in summer 2021 and beyond."
Wheeler plans to bring a discussion of funding options to the City Council next month.
"Portlanders cherish our parks and recreation system," the mayor said in a statement. "I am proud to continue Commissioner Fish's vision for financial stability, and excited to talk with my council colleagues about referring a levy to voters this November.
"With this additional funding, Portland Parks & Recreation will be able to center equity, restart recreation in time for summer 2021, make sure cost isn't a barrier for any Portlander, and improve the condition of our parks."
The council will take up the issue of whether to refer a levy to voters July 22 at 2 pm.