Committee says there’s a lot to dislike on list of reductions
Food wrappers, cigarette butts, diapers and plastic bags of dog waste — the 476 garbage cans scattered throughout Portland’s city parks perform a hefty job. Yet, under a proposed money savings plan, a budget advisory committee to Portland Parks and Recreation has pitched a plan to save $1 million by ending regular trash pickup at the parks — and asking patrons to pack their litter out instead. It’s a drastic proposal with exactly the kind of shock value that often crops up during government or school district budget processes, in order to rally citizens to pay attention to what’s at stake. However, those who helped craft the proposals say the cuts proposed here — during a fourth consecutive year for parks budget reductions — are no joke. “No matter what you propose to cut at this point, you’re going to get people’s attention,” says Linda Robinson, a budget advisory committee member, longtime park volunteer and East Portland community organizer. “Nothing was done purposefully to rile people up. That was not the point.” After lengthy discussions, the committee proposed packages for 4 percent cuts, 6 percent and 8 percent cuts. “At 6 and 8 percent, it gets fairly dire,” says Andy Nelson, executive director of Hands on Greater Portland, who served on the committee. He admits the proposal to curtail trash pickup is severe, but “we methodically went through the options,” he says. “For me, I wanted to (preserve) programs that had direct impact on families and kids. It’s a bit of a Sophie’s Choice.” A public meeting on the parks budget is set for Monday evening, Jan. 9. A recommended budget will be submitted to Mayor Sam Adams, and the final budget will be adopted in May. Turning off splash pads The parks bureau is facing its fourth consecutive year of cuts, just after being awarded the prestigious National Gold Medal Award for excellence in parks and recreation from the Management American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration and the National Recreation and Park Association. A potential lack of trash receptacles — as well as other extreme budget-cutting proposals — could launch the parks into a spiral of disarray, the budget advisory committee concedes. Another seemingly unrealistic measure outlined in the plan includes closing all park restrooms, to save $772,000. Visitors would use portable toilets instead, which would be serviced three times per week. If the city took that step, starting July 1, it would close 189 toilets at the parks, 36 of which are open year-round and serviced daily. The rest are open and maintained between April and November. Other proposed cuts include: • Closing Southwest Portland’s Fulton Park Community Center (general fund savings of $80,000), Buckman Pool (savings of $80,000) and Hillside Community Center (savings of $33,000) • Reducing park landscaping (savings of $645,000), ending irrigation except on sports fields ($104,000), cutting the Dutch Elm Program ($152,000), and cutting the outdoor education program for adults and at-risk teens ($110,000). • Closing the summertime “splash pads,” also known as water fountain play areas, at 12 city parks, primarily in underserved areas of North, Northeast and outer East Portland. Estimated savings: $70,000. Comment on budget Savings from the proposed cut packages range from $1.7 million to $3.4 million. To comment, attend the parks budget meeting, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Jan. 9 at the Multnomah County Boardroom, 501 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd. Or, see details and make comments online at portlandonline.com/parks/index.cfm?c=40431.