City Budget Office Rebukes Commissioner Dan Ryan’s Staffing Request

Adding so many staff would put budget pressure on Portland Parks & Recreation, the City Budget Office determined.

City Commissioner Dan Ryan. (Blake Benard)

On July 1, in anticipation of a new form of government that arrives next year, Portland city bureaus will be realigned under new groupings called “service areas,” each (for now) under the control of a city commissioner.

The city’s annual budget season is well underway, and as part of that process, each of the five commissioners are submitting budget requests for their service areas.

One of those budget requests—that of the “Vibrant Communities” area, which includes the Portland Children’s Levy, Parks & Recreation and the City Arts Program and is under the control of Commissioner Dan Ryan—got pushback from the City Budget Office.

Ryan’s colleagues each asked for a single staffer to assist a deputy city administrator, one of which will oversee each service area, meaning there will be six such deputies. But Ryan asked for six full-time staffers to assist the Vibrant Communities deputy city administrator.

If those positions were funded, the City Budget Office wrote in a recent memo, the parks bureau would have to absorb an additional $450,000 in costs annually, and the Children’s Levy and City Arts Program would have to absorb an additional $144,387 in new costs, the office wrote. One of Ryan’s requested positions would be a transfer from the parks bureau.

“CBO does not recommend adding an additional level of administrative staff without having a comprehensive understanding of how these staff will aid in sustainability of the service area as a whole, and not harm its flexibility to solve projected budget shortfalls,” the Budget Office wrote.

The ask comes after a year of Ryan repeatedly expressing his concern over the rising costs of the city’s transition to a new form of government.

The five additional positions requested by Ryan include a chief of staff to the deputy city administrator and then additional positions housed under that chief of staff: equity and inclusion staff, communications staff, a council liaison, and an engagement coordinator. Ryan’s request for administrative padding comes as all bureaus—save for the fire, Police and Emergency Communications bureaus—face a 5% budget constraint this fiscal year.

“Using current general fund resources for other purposes,” the Budget Office wrote, “including this office, contributes to a trade-off between current administrative functions and future services.”

T.J. McHugh, deputy chief of staff to Ryan, says Vibrant Communities has since pared down its request.

“During the next budget submission, an updated organization chart will reflect a streamlined chief of staff office that will bring long-term efficiencies to the service area,” McHugh said. “[City budget director] Tim Grewe applauded the changes and hoped the Vibrant Communities structure could be a model for other service areas.”

McHugh declined to say how many positions Ryan will request next go-around.

All five city commissioners, including Mayor Ted Wheeler, will each appoint a deputy city administrator to oversee each of the six service areas. Those appointments will be made public next week.

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