Maple Trail in Portland, Ore.’s Forest Park. The parks bureau is facing a $6.3 million deficit in 2019.
Portland Parks & Recreation is facing a projected $6.3 million budget deficit for the coming fiscal year that will all but certainly cause layoffs and closures of park facilities.
“I think it’s safe to say this will be a painful exercise,” Commissioner Nick Fish, who oversees the parks bureau, told The Oregonian/OregonLive on Tuesday. “Everything is on the table.”
Parks & Recreation Director Kia Selley said she expects impacts to employees, services and programs.
The deficit – which Fish called “a persistent and acute structural problem” – stems from the parks department’s rising costs and flat revenues.
Fees such as those paid to rent park facilities or join rec-league sports teams are supposed to cover nearly a third of the annual parks budget, Selley said. Bureau leaders have shied away from increasing fees to avoid pricing people out, Fish and Selley said.
Meanwhile, the cost of employee salaries, health care and pensions rise every year, widening the parks budget gap. A labor arbitration three years ago that forced the bureau to hire about 100 seasonal employees as full-time workers with benefits didn’t help the bureau’s bottom line.
Other costs have mounted. The park rangers budget has increased more than $1 million since 2014. Equity and inclusion initiatives added in recent years cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The parks bureau’s 2018-19 budget is $272 million. Of that, $92 million comes from the city’s General Fund, the discretionary fund that pays primarily for police, fire and parks services. The looming budget gap exists within the General Fund portion of the parks budget.
Fish said the parks bureau now is working to “find the sweet spot” where park services are well-funded and remain affordable for Portlanders.
“Long term, we’re going to have to rethink our business model,” he said.
Parks & Recreation submitted its 2019 budget request to the City Council on Tuesday. It noted the projected $6.3 million deficit but didn’t include a list of potential cutbacks.
Fish said that’s because he’s not ready to have the bureau recommend specific cuts until the Portland Parks Board has more time to weigh in.
The budget request states the bureau will work with Fish and the City Budget Office over the next month to draft “a supplemental document” listing potential cuts.
— Gordon R. Friedman