Budget maps expose neighborhood inequities

Mayor's financial plan could mean more spending in East Portland
by: becca quint Some of Portland's unpaved streets, like this stretch of Southeast Woodward Street west of 82nd Avenue, are in neighborhoods annexed into the city a century ago.

Like the red-headed stepchild, East Portland routinely complains it's not getting its share of the city's money and attention - despite hosting a quarter of its population.

Now, under pressure from community leaders east of 82nd Avenue, Mayor Sam Adams has begun asking his budget staff to track where city funds and services are deployed, by neighborhood district.

So-called 'budget mapping,' launched this spring by the city Office of Management and Finance, could lay bare which areas of town are hogging all the city's money and which are getting snubbed. The new information can enable outlying neighborhood leaders to hold city and bureau officials' feet to the fire, in a town long dominated by folks from downtown and close-in neighborhoods.

'I think the budget mapping will change the way city bureaus do their business a little bit,' says David Hampsten, a board member of the Hazelwood Neighborhood Association in East Portland.

Pinpointing spending in different parts of town is a 'voyage of discovery' - designed to become a 'voyage to equity,' Adams says. 'This is the kind of thing the public, I think, expects government to already be doing, but it's not.'

The budget maps break down spending and revenue collection in the city's seven neighborhood coalition districts, plus an eighth one, the central city, created for statistical purposes. Budget analysts factored-in residents and jobs in each of the districts. So far, there's only data from four city bureaus: transportation, police, fire and parks.

Some early insights gleaned from budget mapping are predictable, while others are startling:

• East Portland received more than its share of city spending in the just-completed 2010-11 fiscal year for police and fire bureau services, second-highest among the eight districts.

• The central city gobbled up more than half of the city's transportation funds in 2010-11, mostly to extend streetcar lines to the inner-east side. All seven other districts received comparatively little funding.

• Southeast Portland has the highest share of poorly maintained arterial roads and collector streets, partly a reflection of how much use those roads get. Inner Northeast Portland has the lowest share of bad roads.

• Portland's 59 miles of dirt and gravel roads, which the city doesn't even bother to maintain, tend to be in areas most recently annexed to the city, such as East Portland. However, some of the neighborhoods without paved streets have been in the city for more than 100 years.

• East Portland ranked last in parks spending in 2010-11, despite a large inventory of newly acquired sites awaiting development.

• Northwest and Southwest residents pay more than their share of property taxes. That's partly because home prices rose more in close-in Northeast, Southeast and North neighborhoods after property tax assessments were cut and capped by a 1996 property tax limitation initiative (Measure 47).

Bad intersections

Adams and other city finance managers note that budget mapping is a work in progress, and it's hard to draw sweeping conclusions from only one year's spending. There's no data yet for city spending on urban renewal, water and sewer and other services. And the maps don't include spending in Portland from federal, state and other sources, such as Metro and TriMet.

The city expects to add data for more bureaus this fall, and to update the maps to reflect spending in the newly adopted 2011-12 budget.

East Portland community leaders praised Adams for starting to track spending by parts of the city, which they have long sought.

'It does make us, I think, feel that we're more of a part of the city,' Hampsten says.

'I think for a long time we didn't even get considered,' says Arlene Kimura, co-chairwoman of the East Portland Action Plan.

Nick Sauvie, executive director of ROSE (Revitalize Outer Southeast) Community Development Corp., called it a positive step. Yet, in a sign of how the budget mapping will be used, Sauvie says he found the low spending on parks and transportation in East Portland to be 'staggering.'

East Portland has 10 of the 11 most dangerous intersections in the city, Sauvie says. 'If the city spent more on transportation and parks in East Portland,' he says, 'then maybe they wouldn't have to spend as much on police and emergency response.'

Much of East Portland was forcibly annexed into the city more than a quarter of a century ago, Sauvie says, and promises made about the benefits of joining the city haven't been fulfilled.

Katie Larsell, a co-chairwoman of the East Portland Action Plan, and a former Parkrose School Board member, says the budget maps reveal how complicated it is to equalize spending in various parts of town.

'There was a feeling that we weren't getting our share,' Larsell says. 'I did not realize that when it comes to police services, that we get more than other people do.'

However, she says some of the higher spending on police and fire stems from the higher poverty in East Portland.

'You're going to areas where people do not have insurance; they do not have health care,' Larsell says.

An estimated 95 percent of the fire bureau's calls are in response to heart attacks and other calls for emergency service unrelated to fires.

District coalitions

The budget maps likely will be fodder for East Portland leaders in their continuing demand for more parks spending. 'You spent money buying parks,' Kimura says of the city. 'All you did was buy the land; there has been minimal development done.'

Adams acknowledges the city has a backlog of public improvements to do in East Portland and other neglected areas. Many of those areas were built up when they were unincorporated, and developments were allowed without streets and neighborhood parks, he says. 'We have profound infrastructure deficiencies in the areas that were developed and urbanized within the county, outside city limits,' the mayor says.

Adams says that's partly why he tussled with the county over diverting city funds that are earmarked for Sellwood Bridge replacement to add sidewalks in parts of East and Southwest Portland.

In the future, budget mapping could enable tactical shifts among Portland's influential neighborhood coalitions.

Hampsten says the budget maps show it's not just East Portland that's getting shortchanged on city transportation funding. Every neighborhood is losing out to the central city, he says.

As a result, Hampsten says, the new data is enabling neighborhood coalitions to work together more, instead of against each other.

For more information go to:

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