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Be frugal with citys resources

Our Opinion

The city of Portland spends millions every year to fund services that, in theory, it is not be obligated to provide. These are good and noble causes, such as sheltering the homeless, helping disadvantaged youth through the Portland Children's Levy or funding mental-health programs.

These - and many more similar services - are all jobs that someone ought to be doing, but City Auditor LaVonne Griffin-Valade raises a valid question when she asks whether the city's increasingly large role in the social-service arena is either sustainable or in keeping with its mission.

As reported in last week's Portland Tribune, Griffin-Valade's office is preparing an audit that will address some of these issues. We hope this audit also will prompt city officials and their counterparts in Multnomah County government to evaluate whether the two jurisdictions are following a nearly 30-year-old agreement that was supposed to govern who would provide which services within the county.

City's programs have grown

Back in the 1980s, when the cities of Portland and Gresham began swallowing up vast unincorporated areas in mid-Multnomah County, the parties involved came to a formal agreement about their respective roles in serving the public. The county's job going forward was primarily to meet the social and human needs within the community, while the cities were to concentrate on urban services such as sewers, water and police and fire protection.

This agreement, embodied in what's known as 'Resolution A,' was the result of very purposeful and thoughtful citizen discussions about the best way to deliver critical services. But as the years have passed, the city of Portland has added greatly to its portfolio, expanding - and continuing to expand - into social programs.

Admittedly, the Resolution A agreement came several years prior to passage of statewide ballot measures that limited what local governments could collect in property taxes. As money has gotten tighter, particularly for the county, the city has come under increased pressure to help vulnerable citizens who were placed at greater risk due to budget reductions.

Revisit city, county roles

The city has been adding these programs and spending these funds in a hodgepodge manner that is responsive to immediate needs, but doesn't necessarily fit into a long-term and sustainable framework for local government. There are political reasons for the city of Portland taking such a large social-service role. This city's residents are more willing to approve funding for such items as a Children's Levy, whereas Multnomah County voters who live outside Portland would be much less enthusiastic.

Yet, as we saw in the May election, even Portlanders have their tax limits. That's just one reason it is important for the city and the county to once again have a highly purposeful discussion about their roles in delivering services. Such a process must not be restricted to city and county officials, but should involve business, nonprofit and community leaders - as it did in the 1980s.

Nearly 30 years may have passed since Resolution A was adopted, but government resources still are limited and neither the city nor the county can afford to be all things to all people.