Portland’s budget process rolls on toward an imminent conclusion, but the path it has left behind, while strewn with some programmatic and personnel wreckage, still reveals a record of indecisiveness. That does not hold out much hope that the city’s long-term fiscal issues have been resolved.

True, the budget will be in balance with the city’s revenues, but without taking an overall look at city needs and resources, the city manager and councilors apparently have left the state’s largest municipality still highly vulnerable to future financial crises. This is, after all, the third year in a row of restricted revenues, and it’s worth wondering when that environment will start to drive budgeting from the outset of the process.

One symptom of that was this week’s unfortunate focus on some minor spending and personnel issues in the office of City Manager Joseph Gray. He had proposed eliminating the position of business development representative and cutting to a half-time job the post of equal opportunity and multicultural affairs director. Those changes would save $82,000 — out of a city budget of $196 million.

True, if the jobs are less than top priorities, they should be cut. But those are minor issues now. What counts is that the city still is trying to do as much as it can across a broad spectrum of responsibilities instead of zeroing in on fewer jobs and devoting the resources to them that would produce success.

Thus, it runs the risk of doing poorly in many areas when it could do well in fewer ones.

With the school budget calling for a 1 percent tax increase, councilors have to be careful about much more than a job or two. At some point in time, strategic vision should replace reacting to events.

Shouldn’t it?

 


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