New mayor has new style for city budget

Throughout his candidacy, Mayor Tom Potter pledged again and again that he would affect significant changes at City Hall, ranging from more citizen involvement in city council decisions to the unorthodox move of taking all the city’s bureaus under his wing.

As Potter enters his fourth month as mayor, his budget proposal last week was a sign of new openness and involvement in City Hall, incorporating ideas from town hall budget forums and drawing heavily on the four commissioners’ suggestions to cut about $8 million out of the 2005-2006 budget.

When the city council begins debating the finer points of the budget today, many parts will look familiar. Potter has parlayed his inexperience with the budget into a selling point, since he asked city council members and citizens to draft cost-cutting recommendations rather than review his own proposals.

Potter was quick to give credit. “None of this is possible without the collaboration of my colleagues on the council,” he said. “They have done remarkable work.” He announced that he had used a hefty percentage of the ideas from the work groups’ many cost-cutting suggestions.

The reliance on others’ input is a marked contrast, some say, from former Mayor Vera Katz’s highly private budget process. “Katz used to write the bulk of the city’s annual spending plan behind closed doors,” The Oregonian wrote Sunday, calling the budget process “the prime example of the kind of change Potter wants to bring to Portland.”

Potter’s version of the budget cuts is about $2 million less than the commissioners’ proposed $8 million in cuts. The city of Portland expects to have a $15 million shortfall in the next five years.

As guiding principles for the budget cuts, Potter said his plan would maintain emergency service levels but cut over 50 city positions. He did not specify which jobs would be cut, but said 30 temporary positions would be added.

Potter sent a clear message to many community programs dependent on the city budget to find other sources of revenue. He rewarded the Linnton Community Center for finding private funds, saying, “Linnton is a good example of how citizens and the city can work together to provide services through partnerships with the community.”

The Parks Bureau will get an additional $800,000 under the plan, but the extra money will go toward finding what Potter calls “alternative funding resources.” He also pledged to keep funding at levels that would let programs look elsewhere for support. Departments can actually lose money by being cut too deeply, he said. “Taking a small amount of city money from a program in the Office of Sustainable Development [could] affect its ability to compete for significant federal grant dollars,” Potter said, adding that he kept that in mind while considering cuts.

To ensure that departments are using money efficiently, Potter wants money set aside for studies.

From asking for more local control over the Joint Terrorism Task Force and plans to buy out Portland General Electric, to taking a new approach to the budget, to condemning a potentially discriminatory Mrs. Oregon America pageant, Potter has won favor not only among progressives but also the from the business community.