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Thursday, March 22, 2007

The old switcheroo from Zari

Remember back in 2002, when the City of Portland came to us voters to ask for a tax levy to pay for park maintenance? It was Measure 26-34, and it was all about providing basic maintenance services. The official propaganda about it is here. There you'll read:

Levy funds will: Restore basic park maintenance including litter removal, restroom cleaning, mowing, natural area and trail care;

Correct urgent safety problems with playground equipment, play fields, community centers, pools;

Repair some playing fields around schools in Centennial, David Douglas, Reynolds, Parkrose and Portland school districts;

Restore cuts to after-school tutoring, recreation activities, and summer playground program - providing kids safe, constructive places to go.

If levy fails, park cleaning, repairs, recreation programs will not be restored.

Well, we voted in the levy, all right, but guess what. The city's parks chief thinks it might be a good idea to divert those funds from maintenance to "capital" projects. So she indicated at a recent parks board meeting, the minutes of which are here. There on page 2 we read:

Steffeni felt there was consensus to move ahead and support the concept of a bond measure in 2010. She’d like to get five-six talking points from Parks staff to use in meetings with commissioners. Zari said that, based on the financial forecast, the levy will yield about the same amount for the next two years. This money could be used to fund the list of one-time capital requests. Rev. Bethel worried, however, about switching levy money to pay for things that weren’t promised in the levy. He said Parks needs to do what they promised as the public is counting on that.
And what "capital" projects are we talking about? Surely we're not talking about that downtown park block that Tom Moyer so generously "donated" to the city in exchange for getting to build an underground garage halfway down to China. Are we?

I don't know. Elsewhere in the meeting, there's talk of not having the money to give Saturday Market a decent move because Parks is about to hit up the City Council for money to pay for some of the park construction on the Moyer block:

Chet said he was concerned that he’s been working had to get additional money from the Council for Park Block 5, and now the possibility has arisen that Parks will ask for money for the Saturday Market project. He doesn’t want to undermine PP&R’s request for sustainability money by asking Council to fund additional emergency projects. Zari said that PDC needs to provide adequate funding since the market relocation involves economic development. The street improvements are amenities and could be delayed, but the park improvements are a necessity for the market to move in. Mary Ruble added that the board should think about opportunities to bring in additional dollars from people who have a stake in the area. She also reminded the bureau not to forget about relocating the children’s maze, which was removed from the area for the sewer work. David Yamashita said staff are working with the Regional Arts and Culture Council and the artist on a new site, but it won’t go back in its original spot.
If I'm reading this correctly, we're about to divert maintenance money to "capital" projects, including the "free" park. And because of the Moyer project, there won't be enough dough to move Saturday Market in anything but a half-fast way.

As they taught me to say in charm school, that's just fascinating.

Comments (25)

Okay...I've been saying this for a couple of years now....

What is she doing as bureau chief of the PPB? She needs to be terminated or transferred. Preferrably the former.

This woman is a political hack appointed by the Scone and is being unsupervised by Big Pipe. How many big time screw-ups does it take before somebody with responsibility to the public steps in to protect the public's interest?

I believe that using levy funds specifically requested for maintenance and upkeep on capital projects is patently illegal. To even suggest such in the face of the Parks Bureau's crumbling existing capital infrastructure because they have failed to maintain it. Last year, they stole a million bucks from Parks OPERATING budgets to sink into the 'park/parking lot' in SoWhat. Now, they want to divert levy funds earmarked for maintenance to their grandiose little narcissistic projects?

What does it take? Citizens with pitchforks and blazing torches?

I'm confused. My understanding is that the discussion is for the NEXT levy to ask for capital improvement funds, with a new (good) understanding that sufficient General Fund dollars should be allocated for parks operations. The current levy was for operations - and didn't bring in all the money we voted for, due to tax limit compression by the Children's Levy. Do the Parks Board minutes refer to the current levy, or the future one?

This speaks to the shell game of funding. Parks are/have been funded with General Fund dollars, operating levy money, capital improvement levy funds, Systems Development Charges, fees, donations, sponsorships, and probably other categories I'm forgetting. Council, the Parks Board, and the public should have a comprehensive review of what we want to buy and how to pay for it, rather than the piece-by-piece process of asking about one element at a time.

The quoted paragraph in the middle of the post refers to both the old and the new, and raiding the old for capital projects.

The trash cans near the new playground and picnic area at Willamette Park have been removed.

I wonder if that was in the name of cost savings?

Too bad: the trash was already piling up over the weekend.

I am near certain Parks has already diverted $4 million from their general fund to help out the cash strapped SoWa.
It is absolute that SoWa needs more from Parks. Much more. Much much more.
And you know what folks?
There's not a damn thing you are going to do about it.
PDOT will be diverting millions more as well to SoWa.
The cooking and scheming is in high gear people and with Leonard looking at big IKEA signs out at Cascade Station and the big shots shaking their fists at the city council there won't be a single brave elected leader in sight.

This makes me so mad! I'm going to find out at the next Cully Association meeting whether some of the money approved for our parks is getting diverted. If it is, I'm going to rent a school bus each weekend and drive all the kids in my neighborhood down to the SoWhat district and let them run amok!

I also believe that using levy funds specifically requested for maintenance and upkeep on capital projects is probably illegal. I know it is illegal to use SDC funds for operating costs.

But hey, I don't live in that other town anymore. . .thank goodness.

It is illegal to use levy money for something other than what it was intended for. Such shenanigans should be reported to the Tax Supervising and Conservation Commission.

Remind me, and your readers what it takes to recall at least one of the City of Portland's elected officials. The time is here to get them to realize that the continual misuse or illegal use of monies will not be allowed to continue.

Obviously, by watching their actions, they think nothing of being involved in wrongdoing, which is impacting our community. And it goes far beyond parks, as is presenting here, almost every day.

The large number of people who spent Sunday marching in downtown Portland protesting the war to no avail would be better off protesting schemes that directly affect their lives and pocketbooks right here in River City. Imagine the same numbers in front of City Hall and the Parks and Recreation Building. Citizens in action and doing something worth being arrested and certainly producing a media frenzy!
But I suppose most folks consider this too mundane.

Jack, add to your list of "capital" projects the three parks of SoWhat. The neighborhood park improvements on Moody isn't even funded in the lastest 5 year budget ($5M?). The greenway park costing over $40M isn't funded. The park under the Ross Island isn't funded.

You can't ask the developers of SoWhat to pay for any of the costs of the parks-that is definitely not fair. The taxpayers have already paid for all the SoWhat infrastructure improvements and a lot more-that's fair.

So it is time for another parks levy for maintenance costs and garbage pickup, then the money will be diverted to "capital" projects-just like the $7.2M to only buy the SoWhat neighborhood park land (not the toxic clean up costs or improvements. It's a geese landing site now. I know how I am voting.

I just LOVE the idea of running a private shuttle bus from the areas that have been designated park-deficient for over 20 years, so they can use the new parks in SoWat. Somebody go in and apply for a permit for a fundraiser for it. We could have the fundraiser on the esplanade, but nobody would be able to find it.

Shuttle buses?

I want a tram! From 39th & Division to SoWhat.

Parks money to bail out SoWA? Isn't SoWA the place where water will be rising with global warming? Isn't SoWa next to a large air polluting freeway? Hmmm.

Come on people, settle down now.
This is nothing but,

"Some on the right, including Lars Larson, et al., are enticing some otherwise well meaning members of our community to join with them in helping to undermine urban renewal districts. These are the same people who are hell bent on destroying our public schools and anything that has to do with government."

Who said that? When and Where?

I believe that was Fireman Randy, on Blue Oregon. No?


Back when the Tram was affordable and Randy was an "expert" on Portland Urban Renewal

Now we know neither is true.

So he wrote:

Does a particular URA cause development that would otherwise not occur?

An Ikea out off of I-205 would have been built anyway. So why no vote to kill that URA, Randy?

Uh...back to Parks. Every discussion I've ever been involved in with Parks staff, either on the SPLAT (Skateboard) committee, or with the City-wide Parks team...Parks staff are very cognizant of the fact that those levy dollars are earmarked, and people expect them to be used in the way they were promised. (Especially if you ever expect to pass a levy again.)

I'd be very, very surprised if there was any serious plan to divert levy maintenance funds to capital projects... especially after the Council just gave Parks additional money for maintenance projects.

Then again...I also used to believe in the Easter Bunny.

Frank, I know that they don't tell the rank and file parks staff about this stuff. The standard line is there is no money and that the public doesn't understand.

When one of the underling parks planners was asked about a year ago why the city could find the extra million in General Fund for the SoWhat park purchase and not have any money to fulfill the 15 year old promise to develop their neighborhood park. A park that they had been promised through the three campaigns there was money in the bond to fund to get the neighborhood to support the various bond measures since the early 90's. The line was the money had evaporated before anything could be spent in their neighborhood on improvements even though it was deemed park deficient. This planner came back and told the neighborhood that no general fund money was used at SoWhat, but when the person sent them the council agenda item where the General Fund money was transferred for the SoWhat Park project, the underling planner deferred to upper management who of course never answered the inquiry.

The rank and file at Parks folks carry an unfair burden. Most of them are dedicated and put in many unpaid hours trying to be good stewards of the resources, the problem is mismanagement and no clear accounting practice where you can track the money and if someone does understand finance and asks too many questions there is always reorganization and that problem is solved.

The Cully neighborhood person should go to pages 27 through 29, of this report.

Some of the things that jump out at a NE person might be the original budget of Montavilla Community center going down by 1/3 while Southwest Center increased by almost $2 million and Wilson High School projects increased by 500%. Also the item #70 North East Soccer fields, morphed into item #120 Soccer fields NE and SW for the same money, and Delta Park soccer fields ended up with $1million not originally budgeted, which I am not sure where the money for their tournament rental goes, but this more recent auditors report showed that a club is doing quite well using the site.

Parks Bureau Softball: Operating agreement for the softball program should be revised as it nears self-sufficiency (PDF Document, 836kb)
An audit of the softball program and contracts between the Portland Metropolitan Softball Association and the Portland Parks Bureau

Most other public agencies have equitable cost recovery policies on hourly usage of sites by organizations, a school I was just helping with consultant selection for example, they charged $50/hr for field rental to residents and $75/hr for non-residents, or follow the formula used by the Tualatin Hills Parks District in neighboring Beaverton, whose budget does add up. If the adults using the Delta Park facility compensated the City at this rate it would generate hundreds of thousands of dollars for low income kids programs, which is as the cost recovery policy adopted by council in 2004 is how things should work.

Couldn't Levy money be used to back fill Parks general fund money that is diverted to help out SoWa or other uses?
Seems like an easy shuffle to me.

One that has already been used in SoWa.
$3.5 million in borrowed SoWA TIF money, earmarked for Moody Street improvements, was diverted to OHSU under the guise of future parking spaces in a future building. Strangely, he he, during the soaring Tram price "negotiations".

Soon after PDOT diverted $3.5 million to the SoWa for the Moody Street improvements.
None of these were levy dollars but still the shell games are, or should be, disturbing.

Do I understand the funding process in Portland correctly? I'm newer to Portland and still don't understand how the city works.

Action 1: Receive taxes from Portland citizens. Deposit in General Fund.
Assumption: These funds will be used for Public Safety & FIre, Social Needs and Health, Parks Maintenance, Water and Sewer, and fill in a few pot holes along the way.

Action 2: Transfer money from General Fund to "special projects" outside the designated purpose for those funds. These fund will satisfy the requests of those who I call, "The Power Brokers".

Action 3: Ask the public to approve a Tax Levy, with legally defined purposes... such as mentioned here, "Parks Maintenance".
Assumption: Those funds will be used for "Parks Maintenance".

Action 4: Money for "Parks Maintenance" is redirected to projects other than "Parks Maintenance".
Assumption: Anyone and everyone who approves this redirection of funds is FIRED?

It's taking me a little while to get up to speed on Portland. This wouldn't quite fly in some of the other cities I've lived in.

I can't wait for Lessons On Portland Politics - Part 2.

CDraw, Absolutely correct. And absolutely illegal. And it will continue as long as there's no penalty for it at the ballot box or in the courts. Which is the Portland way. See no evil.

The only thing about it that astonishes me is that they have the nerve to pull trash cans, etc, from neighborhood parks because they are "short of funds". Short of funds? If you are going to engage in what amounts to wholesale giveaways of public funds to HW and friends, at least have the decency to give us a stinking trash can. These people can't even do corruption right.

"These people can't even do corruption right"



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