PORTLAND — More than 30 positions would be cut at the Parks and Recreation Department, before and after school programs would have less capacity, city streets would be cleared less frequently and fire prevention services and park and cemetery maintenance would be reduced under the city manager’s revised budget proposal.

City Manager Jon Jennings’ proposed $202 million budget is down $4.2 million from the current operating budget and requires no tax increase for property owners.

In  addition to eliminating 31 Parks and Recreation jobs, the budget calls for cutting 10 Public Works positions and four Public Safety positions – a fire lieutenant and a division chief and the two school resource officers that were part of the now discontinued program.

The budget also proposes eliminating the positions of sustainability associate and the director of innovation and performance management, a position added last year that oversees such “smart city” initiatives as LED lighting, free public WiFi and traffic signals that adjust to traffic volume in real time and helps to find efficiencies in city operations.

“Unfortunately, there are necessary reductions in staffing that we had to make in order to meet a budget with no tax rate increase,” Jennings said in a Aug. 5 budget letter to Mayor Kate Snyder and the City Council. “These cuts are necessary both due to decreased revenues, as well as because some of the services we provide simply cannot be provided at this point during the pandemic.”

The proposed budget, which councilors are expected to vote on Sept. 21, comes on the heels of a difficult end of the 2020 fiscal year.

Finance Director Brendan O’Connell said because of the coronavirus, the city will have $12 million less in revenue than expected as revenue streams from excise tax, cruise ships and parking and fees from parks and recreation programs and facilities fees have dried up.

Finance Director Brendan O’Connell, right, listens to Fire Chief Keith Gautreau at a finance committee meeting last year. The finance committee is now reviewing city manager’s proposed fiscal year 2021 budget. File photo

The revenue loss required a reworking of the budget. Instead of the originally proposed the 1.8% tax rate increase, the rate will decrease by o.1%, a $3 reduction for the owner of a $300,000 home.

Jennings said he felt a property tax rate decrease “was very important for residents, businesses and others during this difficult economic time.”

O’Connell said the layoffs and positions being cut will mean a reduction in services. “It is unreasonable to expect the same level of service will be able to be picked up by remaining employees,” he said.

Furthermore, O’Connell said most city departments face “major cuts” under the revised budget plan, including reductions of $2.3 million for Parks and Recreation budget, $980,000 for Public Works, $561,700 for Portland Police, $430,700 for the Fire Department and $250,700 for the Portland Public Library.

The position losses and the 20% budget cut for Parks and Recreation and Facilities will mean a reduction in maintenance at parks and cemeteries and reduced capacity in the Before and After Care program,  O’Connell said. It will reduce the organic field maintenance program and eliminate the Park and Play and the senior adult programs because revenues will not be there to support those programs.

Public Works Director Chris Branch said six of the 10 positions he will have to cut – solid waste manager, two solid waste maintenance workers, a project manager and paving coordinator in engineering and an office assistant position –  are now vacant. The reduced budget will result in streets and crosswalks being line striped just once a year rather than twice a year,  the elimination of spring yard waste collection and the collection of recyclables on holidays. The budget cut also impact how often snowplows clean up city streets.

“We will be extending the plow routes one to two hours on arterial and collector roads and possibly longer on residential roads because we are going to have to cut back on the number of private contractors we used to plow,” Branch said.

O’Connell said these departmental cuts and staff layoffs won’t impact the projects that have already been approved through the capital improvement plan.

“We are still moving forward with everything that has been approved, but we might have to move at a slower pace,” he said.

The fire budget will mean a reduction in fire prevention and community outreach. Fire Chief Keith Gautreau said his department will be asked “to do more with less.”

Three department budget are expected to rise. The City Clerk’s budget is expected to increase by $56,700 to $679,450 to help offset the cost of the November election, which like the July primary/school validation vote is expected to have an influx of absentee and mail-in ballots. The allocation for permitting and inspections is proposed to increase by $77,480 for a total budget of $1.9 million due to the increased workload on the business licensing division, in part because of the new marijuana ordinance. The additional cost will likely be offset by additional marijuana licencing and permitting fees.

That being said, O’Connell said “the only place there is a significant increase is in health and human service, which has been a community, council and city manager priority.”

The health and human services budget is proposed to increase $1.7 million, with the majority of that increase going to social services, which is seeing an 11% increase over current year. O’Connell said the increase is needed because the city is operating additional shelters and money is set aside now in general assistance funding for the asylum seekers that came to the city in summer 2019. Over the last decade, Jennings said, the health and human services department’s budget has increased $6.3 million, close to $2 million more than any other department in that time.

The finance committee is set to meet with Kristen Dow, the director of health and human services, on Wednesday, Aug. 12, to review her departmental budget. Also at that meeting, committee members will hear from Police Chief Frank Clark and Acting Parks and Recreation Director Ethan Hipple about their spending plans.

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