Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman has fired the first shot across the bow in what is likely just a preview of what’s to come in bruising fight over next year’s budget.
On the agenda at the City Council meeting this morning was a two-year $248,500 contract expense for local company Good Sport Promotion to manage the hundreds of volunteers it takes to put on PBOT’s Sunday Parkways events. According to Beth Slovic at The Oregonian, Saltzman spoke out in opposition to the contract — and funding for the event in general — at the council meeting.
“I’m not OK with guaranteeing support for funding Sunday Parkways next fiscal year. There are a lot of other pressing transportation priorities.”
— Dan Saltzman, City Commissioner
The Oregonian wasted no time seizing on the story with a Tweet that read, “Should Portland pay for Sunday Parkways or road maintenance?”
In a phone call after the meeting, Commissioner Saltzman told me he’s a big fan of Sunday Parkways and that he has no problem funding it this fiscal year; but next year — when the budget crunch becomes very serious — he wants to be careful how much the city commits to it.
“I’m not OK with guaranteeing support for funding Sunday Parkways next fiscal year,” he said, “There are a lot of other pressing transportation priorities.”
Saltzman simply doesn’t feel that Sunday Parkways should be considered an essential, core mission of PBOT. At Council today, Mayor Adams and other PBOT staff disagreed, saying that it is a core city priority.
Saltzman says he thinks it’s a “great event” (he even said, “I love it”); but he added,
“it’s not as essential to me as bike safety improvements or paving roads… The point is, we need more and safer routes for pedestrians and cyclists and a dollar spent there is more important to me that Sunday Parkways.”
Looking forward to 2012-2013, Saltzman said if the money isn’t there for Sunday Parkways, he’d advocate for a reduction in the number of events or even a “hiatus” of it altogether. “It’s going to have to bear a certain level of scrutiny in my mind… Everything has to be looked at by the Council and judiciously decided. We must focus on core priorities.”
Despite his statements, Saltzman ultimately voted in favor of the contract today; but made it clear that the two-year contract could be reneged if funding for the event falls through next year.
Some looking into the numbers shows that Sunday Parkways costs about $100,000 total per event (the volunteer management contract voted on today is about 25% of the total event cost). Last year, about 56% of the total Parkways budget came from the City of Portland ($170,000 of which was from the General Fund and the rest was from PBOT) — the rest of the money came from major private sponsors (like Kaiser Permanente) and grassroots donations.
Next year, which is where Commissioner Saltzman is focusing his concerns, only about one-third (around $166,000) of the total Sunday Parkways budget will come from the City of Portland. Of that funding, only $50,000 will come from transportation revenue, the rest will come from the City’s General Fund (as we reported last week, the City is proposing a $50,000 cut to the event as part of across-the-board budget reductions).
Sunday Parkways has been an unqualified success since it started in 2008. Given that it gets tens of thousands of Portlanders out into the streets on bikes and on foot and improves our communities in many ways, it offers a solid return on investment. At this point it looks like Saltzman isn’t prepared to really push opposition to funding the event. Rather, he’s likely just trying to stake his ground in the upcoming budget debate.
That being said, hold on to your hats. If today’s fireworks over a standard work contract are any indication, we’re in for quite a ride over the budget in the months to come.