Hales' Budget Cuts Mounted Patrol, Keeps Fire Stations

Police and fire bureaus take majority of personnel cuts

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales' proposed budget includes cuts that remove 182.5 full-time city positions and eliminate high-profile programs like the Police Bureau's mounted patrol and Buckman Pool. But the mayor has preserved school police and kept all fire stations open.

More than half of the positions cut are from public safety bureaus—police and fire—which make up the majority of the general fund budget.

"This is a humane and responsible budget that looks to Portland's future," Hales said in a press conference. "There were no sacred cows."

For the past four months, Hales's top priority has been finding $21.5 million to cut out of the city's $390 million annual budget to fill the shortfall that greeted him upon taking office. He made the city's 27 bureau directors submit 10 percent cuts to their programs, asked city commissioners to suggest other trims, and listened to outcry from citizens about their favorite services getting slated for the chopping block.

Today, he announced his cuts—which include Multnomah County's Crisis Assessment and Treatment Center; a needle exchange program; pass-through funding for Multnomah County SUN Schools; and the annual Symphony in the Park.

But many of the most discussed cuts didn't happen—most notably social safety net programs including transitional housing shelter the Clark Center and a women's winter homeless shelter. Hales also preserved money for the four SUN Schools the city funds directly, and kept funding for the CHIERS van, Hooper detox center, graffiti removal, neighborhood tree planting and noise control. 

Hales also declined the offer from Portland Fire & Rescue to close seven fire stations. Instead, the mayor's budget replaces four fire engine or truck companies with rapid response vehicles.

"This moves the fire bureau even more into their core business, which is medical response," Hales said. "The question is, are we just thinning the soup, or are we moving the bureaus toward the future?" 

Hales kept several police programs that had been offered for cuts—including most school police, gang enforcement officers and the property crimes unit—but cut 55 positions from the bureau. He went beyond the bureau's suggested cuts by eliminating most of the budget for the Air Support Unit, which he says will now only fly in exceptional cases or when reimbursed by other law-enforcement agencies. 

Hales' budget can also be seen as a referendum on the "Washington Monument" strategy of bureaus offering up high-profile programs for cuts: Hales has eliminated the mounted patrol and Buckman Pool, which in previous years had appeared untouchable.

Hales said he felt bureau directors acted in good faith when they offered those programs for cuts.

"Certainly, things like the Buckman Pool and the mounted patrol are flashpoints, because people love them," Hales said. "I think our bureau chiefs understood the difference between the 'have-tos' and the 'nice-tos.' They kept the 'have-tos' and they cut the 'nice-tos.'"

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