Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling on Wednesday proposed a wide-range of policy and spending initiatives, as well as calling for the expansion of a tax relief program for seniors so it includes other low-income families.

Strimling also used his 37-minute speech to push back against critics and paint a picture of collaboration, despite a year of high-profile political battles at City Hall. He acknowledged unspecified disagreements and anger, but focused on progress.

“But for those who look at the work being done every day in this building and see only conflict and division, I say our results show otherwise,” he said.

During his third State of the City address, Strimling called on the City Council to ask voters to approve a $5 million bond to invest in affordable housing. It would be part of an ambitious housing agenda that would look to inject $10 million into the city’s housing fund and increase tenant protections, some of which have been turned down by previous councils and voters.

He also called on the council to add $1.5 million to the school budget to institute a district-wide pre-kindergarten program estimated to cost $2 million. He also urged the council to pass a new ordinance that would require businesses to offer paid sick time to their employees.

City Councilor Nicholas Mavodones said he was pleased that Strimling spent time outlining the council’s success over the last year. However, he said the council will have to discuss how to fund the initiatives that have the support of the council.

“I understand (the mayor’s) role is to set high goals and encourage people to figure out a way to meet them, but we have to fund these things,” Mavodones said. “The funding has to be figured out.”

Strimling spent much of his speech looking back at the previous year. He noted the city’s strong economy is still leaving some residents behind despite an unemployment rate of 2.3 percent, and development activity that rivals the efforts following the Great Fire of 1866, which destroyed one-third of the downtown business district.

Although he has previously accused the City Council and city manager of undermining his policy initiatives, Strimling painted a picture of a collaborative government that was making strides on some of the city’s biggest challenges. He only made vague references to the political battles of the previous year.

Some of those battles included an aborted request for the council to consider giving him a raise, an unsuccessful effort to stop the council from eliminating his assistant’s position and a four-hour meeting during which Strimling was roundly criticized by councilors and City Manager Jon Jennings.

The year ended with an impasse over committee assignments. Strimling made an aggressive bid to lead the Finance Committee, which recommends a budget to the full council, but was uniformly opposed by the council. He ultimately relented and settled for being a member of the committee.

But Strimling highlighted all of the areas where the council voted unanimously to pass policies. Those achievements included reforming the city’s policy on giving tax breaks to businesses to require that they pay a livable wage, banning the use of synthetic pesticides, adopting a tax relief program for low-income seniors and undertaking sustainability efforts that included bigger recycling bins and beginning the process of switching all street lights to a more efficient LED technology.

Strimling also spent a considerable amount of time recapping the successful effort to pass a $64 million bond to renovate four elementary schools. He called the amount approved by 65 percent of the voters “the largest school bond in our history” and hailed it as “perhaps the most significant accomplishment this body has made in years.”

For the current year, Strimling called on the council to pass a requirement that all employers allow their workers to earn up to six days of paid sick leave a year. That time could be used for physical health, mental health or as protection from domestic abuse.

He said the proposal could affect 25,000 workers in Portland, many of whom work in the restaurant industry. He said a recent statewide study showed that 70 percent of restaurant workers without paid sick time admitted to working while sick. “But this is not just simply an issue of basic human rights, it is also an issue of public health,” he said.

He also asked the council to support the universal pre-K program in public schools capable of serving 500 4-year-olds. He suggested that the city ask voters if they would support the roughly $2 million program. If supported, he called on councilors to increase the school budget, without requiring offsetting cuts.

That was one of several new spending initiatives outlined by Strimling, who proposed giving more families access to the senior tax relief program previously estimated to cost more than $500,000, adding staff to the Office of Economic Opportunity, increasing the number of electrical vehicle charging stations in the city and possibly bonding to add more solar to city buildings.

The largest initiative called for a $10 million investment into the city’s housing fund, which currently has $1 million, by the end of 2019. He proposed taking $3 million from a recent sale of city land and asking voters to approve a $5 million bond, which he said could leverage another $50 million to $60 million in state, federal and private funds.

“This is what we need to keep Portland from becoming a city of haves and have-nots,” he said.

He also renewed calls to double the amount of affordable housing required as part of the city’s inclusionary zoning ordinance. Currently, developers must set aside one unit in developments of 10 units or more for middle-income earners. Developers can avoid that requirement by paying about $100,000 to the city for every affordable unit not built.

Strimling also called on the council to revisit a rent stabilization ordinance that was overwhelmingly defeated at the ballot box in November. That citizen initiative would have tied rent increases to inflation, created a rent board to oversee the rental market and make it more difficult to evict tenants.

“Many in the community said the proposal had some good ideas, but overall went too far,” he said. “Perhaps we can find a way to unite behind its better ideas and see if we can put some pieces in place to further protect our tenants.”

He also called on the council to revisit other tenant protections that it already had shot down, including requiring a 90-day notice of evictions, as opposed to the current 30 days, and requiring landlords to accept tenants using housing vouchers, which is currently a voluntary program.

“We have made great strides as a city and as a council and we should be very proud,” he said. “But we still clearly have work to do to ensure our progress continues.”

At no point during the speech was there applause, not even at the end.

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

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