Portland Parks & Recreation will ask the city council this month for an inter-fund loan to begin reopening park facilities and restoring programs that were closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Details of the PP&R request are still being worked out, including when it will be presented to the council and the schedule for reopening the parks and programs.
The request seeks to leverage the five-year 2020 Parks Operating Levy that Portland voters overwhelmingly approved at the Nov. 3 general election. It is expected to raise $45 million in the first year and $48 million in the following years. The council promised to reopen park facilities — including community centers and swimming pools — and restart programs this summer if the levy passed. Reopening and restarting them otherwise would have been difficult — if not impossible — because user fees largely support them. The revenue generated by the fees dried up when the facilities and programs were closed and suspended early last year to slow the spread of COVID-19. The outdoor parks and features, such as basketball and tennis courts, did not close.
"We acknowledge Portland voters and the critical role they play in supporting their parks and recreation system. Thanks to the public's recent investment in the 2020 Parks Operating Levy, PP&R will be able to restore summer programs that support youth and families with a focus on Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), Immigrants and Refugees, and people living with low incomes," Parks Commissioner Carmen Rubio and Parks Director Adena Long wrote in the cover memo to the bureau's 206-page budget request for the next fiscal year that begins on July 1.
According to the memo, PP&R's first request will be submitted to the council in February.
Mayor Ted Wheeler has directed all General Fund agencies — including the parks bureau, the Portland Police Bureau, and Portland Fire & Rescue — to submit budgets with 5% cuts to offset the citywide revenue declines caused by the pandemic. But, because voters approved the levy, the parks bureau can offset that cut and increase total spending. The proposed budget totals $356 million, an increase of $37.5 million. According to the memo, the requested budget would save 69 full-time positions, create 50 additional full-time jobs, and hire up to 1,850 summer seasonal and casual employees.
The proposed budget includes four levy-funded spending packages totaling nearly $13 million that offsets the requested 5% cut. The budget also fulfills specific promises made by the council, including:
Restoration of the Recreation for All programs that includes recreation and arts activities, and free lunch and play opportunities in 26 parks.
Restoration of the Protect and Grown Nature program that cleans and restores parks and natural areas.
Restoration of community partnerships that involve engage BIPOC, immigrants and refugee community members, along with youth from low-income families, in parks programs.
An increase in organizational support to achieve overarching bureau goals.
"Thanks to the levy, PP&R will be able to restore summer programs that support youth and families and improve physical and mental health while safeguarding against COVID-19. The 2020 Parks Operating Levy will also provide living-wage employment to a growing number of people at a time when many in our community are facing economic distress," the memo said.
If approved by the council, the February request and proposed budget will reverse years of declines in parks programs and resources caused by unsustainable spending. Parks Commissioner Nick Fish, who died last January, convinced the council to make several difficult spending decisions in 2019 to balance the budget. As a result, the bureau spun many community centers and programs off to third-party operators, among other cost-cutting measures.
The parks bureau manages the largest and most comprehensive parks systems in the county. It covers 11,712 acres — 15% of Portland's land area. It operates 146 neighborhood parks, 12 swimming pools, 12 community and arts centers, five golf courses and a racetrack.