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Hales shuffles budget to preserve programs, save mounted patrols

Some of the “sacred cows” that Mayor Charlie Hales vowed not to spare in next year’s city budget won’t be heading to the meatpacking plant just yet.

In a briefing to reporters Tuesday, Hales said he tinkered with his proposed 2013-14 general fund budget and thinks he can preserve the popular horse-mounted police patrols and city funding for the Buckman Pool and Sellwood Community Center.

Hales also found money for programs serving victims of sex trafficking and some parks programs. The changes announced Tuesday come on top of an earlier deal Hales struck with Multnomah County Chair Jeff Cogen that will retain city payments to the county’s Crisis Assessment and Treatment Center. In exchange, Cogen agreed to deploy county funds in other areas to offset the city’s obligations.

Hales said he revised his proposed budget, which still must be ratified by the full City Council, after listening to citizen testimony in recent public hearings.

“This City Council listens and we endeavor to take that into account,” said Hales, who added that he tried to make budget tweaks in light of what he’s been hearing from fellow city councilors.

The budget adjustments also were made possible by some new revenue, Hales said.

Chief among those is the city’s recent victory in a lawsuit by CenturyLink challenging the city’s expanded telecom tax. The company already provided the city $1 million, and future payments to the city are now assured.

Police Chief Mike Reese, who proposed putting the mounted police patrols out to pasture in his initial budget plan, had a change of heart, Hales said. Reese was able to set aside $708,000 in savings from the current budget that expires June 30, and shuffled other staffing to save the patrols. In addition, the volunteer Friends of the Mounted Patrol pledged to raise $200,000 a year in the next two years to support the program. One supplier also agreed to provide free hay for the horses for a year.

Portland Fire and Rescue Chief Erin Janssens also requested some changes in her budget that Hales endorsed. Janssens proposed trying out two “quints,” an old-fashioned hybrid vehicle that fills the dual functions of a regular fire engine with a full supply of water and hoses, and a ladder truck that provides firefighters with elevated access to buildings. The quints, which have been around for decades, will enable two fire stations to substitute the new vehicles for a pair of vehicles, with corresponding staff reductions. That will enable the fire bureau to reduce its staff by the equivalent of 26 full-time positions, as under his initial proposal, Hales said.

The mayor conceded that citizens might complain he has been “crying wolf” by putting some popular programs on the chopping block that now appear to be spared.

However, the city plans to reduce its budgeted staffing level by the equivalent of about 175 full-time positions compared to bureau managers’ requests, he said, to fill the expected $21.5 million shortfall in the general fund.

And, despite resorting to the use of one-time items to balance the budget — something Hales has vowed to minimize — City Budget Director Andrew Scott said the new proposal is designed to lead to balanced budgets over the next five years.

The City Council will hold one more public budget hearing Thursday night, then vote on the proposal May 29 and formally adopt it on June 20.