'Penny wise and pound foolish'

Portland has a budget problem again this year, and every department in the city has been asked to make a list of proposed budget cuts to meet Mayor Charlie Hales’ target.

One of the proposed cuts is to the operating budget of the historic and heavily-used Sellwood Community Center: The entire portion of the operating budget that comes from property taxes ($60,000) goes away.

What is rather amazing about it, given the city’s financial situation, is this: The Sellwood Community Center otherwise brings in close to $400,000 each year to the Portland Parks Department in fees paid by users. With its operating staff eliminated, and with reduced operation overseen from the Mt. Scott Community Center, the income from the Center to the Parks Department would drop to around $130,000.

Do the math: With its current $60,000 operating budget, the Sellwood Community Center generates over $450,000 in programs valued by its users. Without it, only $130,000 in programming is delivered. Thus, by saving $60,000, the city takes away over $320,000 in value to its citizens! That can’t be a good way to narrow a deficit!

For more thoughts, and some advocacy, on this surprising situation, we asked Kevin Downing – former SMILE President, and founder and Chair of the Friends of the Sellwood Community Center since the last time the city considered such a cut to this Inner Southeast resource – to write a guest editorial this month. His comments follow….

by: DAVID F. ASHTON - The writer of this month's guest editorial is Kevin Downing of Westmoreland.The Sellwood Community Center may close. This isn’t meant as a courtesy notice but instead is one of the offers made by the Portland Parks Bureau to meet the need to balance the city’s budget. The city of Portland is facing a $25 million deficit for next year’s budget and every bureau supported by general tax dollars has to offer program cuts. The Parks Bureau proposes that the Sellwood Community Center be a satellite facility, available only for preschool, volunteer-run programs and building rentals. This would save all of $60,000. We understand that the city is facing the most serious budget challenge in years, and a balanced budget may require cuts even down to this level. And, closing the Sellwood Community Center could make some sense if the need is that great. But really, it is a foolish savings.

The Sellwood Community Center offers a wide range of activities including preschool and after-school care, sports, movement, dance, art, youth drop-in, sports instruction, adult arts and crafts, yoga, aerobics martial arts, music lessons, teen and adult group cooking, and even dog obedience classes.

Eighty-one cents on the dollar of what it costs to deliver all of those classes, activities, and programs is not paid for with taxes, but by the person taking the class. Very little of the operating budget for Sellwood Community Center comes from your taxes. In fact, Sellwood is among the top parks facilities in the city in terms of being self-sustaining.

Over the whole realm of services the city provides, contributions from the community in the form of taxes plays a key role in ensuring equity in delivering services across the whole diverse community that is Portland. However, closing an efficiently-run and effective program that is as sought-out and supported as is the Sellwood Community Center clearly doesn’t send a positive message to effective program managers.

Curtailing the Center programs instead sends a perverse message to the community that saving $60,000 is worth losing over $300,000 in program activity that residents value with their pocketbooks. This is what we mean by a foolish cut that considers only the money saved, but not the value lost.

The Sellwood Community Center has been a part of Portland Parks since 1920, providing recreation, learning opportunities, and a place to gather for now coming on to four generations of Portlanders. Charlie Hales, while campaigning for Mayor, made his number one priority “Getting back to providing reliable basic services to our neighborhoods” ( The Sellwood Community Center clearly qualifies as a basic city service at 93 continuous years of service. If the Center, having gotten that old, had become somehow less attractive, and less responsive to the needs of a changing population, then perhaps it would be time to move on. But that is clearly not the case, as the financials show you.

However, if you are not one of the hundreds of people who take advantage of what the Center offers every year, come see for yourself and see what’s happening that your neighbors value so highly.

The Center serves a purpose for the entire Sellwood-Westmoreland neighborhood, users and strangers to its charms both. A neighborhood becomes a community with many different elements – but one of the most important elements is the places where people gather. The Sellwood Community Center, aptly named, serves that role. It is a place where people of different ages, different beliefs, and different circumstances come together, and make those unexpected connections with one another that ties us together not only as neighbors but also as citizens of the city where we live, raise our families, make our living, and otherwise contribute to the robust health of this place where we live.

We have seen it before in this neighborhood, when these community building places are threatened – whether it was consideration of closing Llewellyn Elementary, the Sellwood branch of the Multnomah Public Library, or even the closing of the Thriftway and Kienow’s grocery stores. Each one of these was well-supported and well-loved. Neighbors came together and built the case for each of these as an important and critical element of a well-functioning community, and laid the groundwork for their continuing presence.

Now it is time to come together and make the same case for the Community Center. If you agree, contact City Council members and the Mayor – one way is through: – and tell them how important the Center is for your sense of community. Tell them how penny-wise and dollar-foolish closing this particular Center would be.

Let’s all continue to work towards the health of our neighborhoods.

-- Kevin Downing, Chair, Friends of the Sellwood Community Center.

For more information about getting involved, contact: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or call 503/238-4665.

Contract Publishing

Go to top
Template by JoomlaShine