As you might have already heard, Portland Parks & Recreation is facing a budget gap of $6.3 million. To right the ship, the bureau has proposed eliminating over 50 full-time employees, reducing admin costs, closing community centers, and more.
One element of the Parks budget we’re watching closely is how operations and maintenance dollars will be allocated. Or whether they’ll be allocated at all.
Parks has requested $891,694 in discretionary, General Fund revenue to pay for operations and maintenance of 38 assets that are either planned or under construction. The largest item on that list is $173,656 for the continued development of Gateway Green.
Gateway Green opened two years ago after its first phase — a bike park that includes trails, a pump track, and jumps — was completed.
Longtime east Portland parks advocate Linda Robinson spent over a decade to make that possible and now she’s concerned that vital funding for Gateway Green’s continued development will be cut. She testified in front Mayor Ted Wheeler and Parks Commissioner Nick Fish at the budget hearing held at David Douglas High School last night.
In her testimony, Robinson pointed out that in her three decades of parks advocacy, ongoing maintenance funding for newly opened parks facilities has always been somewhat assured. “While there may be some negotiation as to how much operations and maintenance is needed for each asset, the need for it has always been a given,” she said.
While the Parks Bureau has requested money to maintain Gateway Green and 37 other assets, Robinson has flagged a recommendation by the City Budget Office to decline the request. In their response to the City’s budget, the CBO has recommended that Council allocates zero dollars to the operations and maintenance of new and partially built assets.
“I’ve spent the last decade or more advocating and raising money for this park,” Robinson added, “and I’m crushed by the prospect there might not be any money once it’s built.”
“Denying ongoing operations and maintenance requests for these new park assets is like building a Wapato Jail and never allocating any money to operate it.”
— Linda Robinson
While Gateway Green has been open for two years, it only has rudimentary facilities. There are no bathrooms, paved surfaces, or drinking fountains. As we reported back in September, City Council just approved another $1 million to further develop the site.
The CBO’s rationale for declining the City’s $891,694 funding request is that by automatically tacking on operations and maintenance costs to new assets, PP&R places undue pressure on City Council to absorb the costs when a budget deficit impacts other needy assets in the system.
Robinson strongly disagrees with the CBO’s decision. She wants more analysis and discussion before such a significant shift in policy is adopted. “If the policy [of not funding maintenance for new parks] is changed, it should be phased in, not suddenly changed for projects already completed or in the construction process.”
To put a finer point on her position, Robinson said, “Denying ongoing operations and maintenance requests for these new park assets is like building a Wapato Jail and never allocating any money to operate it. This results in great expense and virtually no benefit to taxpayers.” (Wapato is the infamous facility built in 2003 at great expense to taxpayers that has yet to be used for any purpose.)
“It would be unconscionable to make this sudden change just as the city is finally addressing park inequities in east Portland,” she added.
City Council is under no obligation to heed the CBO’s recommendation. Mayor Wheeler will release his budget in May and Council will adopt the 2019-202 budget in June.
You can submit a comment about the budget on the CBO’s website. If you’d like to learn more and support Gateway Green consider attending the Friends of Gateway Green 10th Anniversary fundraiser at Hopworks Urban Brewery (2944 SE Powell) next Tuesday April 16th.
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