Portland is entering a historic new chapter in city government with an increasingly light wallet. Those tasked with overseeing the government change are now concerned that the city’s budget shortfalls could hinder its ability to start its next chapter off right.
The concern lies in staffing. A draft budget plan shows that, in the newly expanded council of 12 people, elected members will only be allowed a single staff member.
Currently, Portland City Council members have between six and seven staff each.
Portland City Council is set to triple in size starting in January 2025, following a November election where all 12 new positions, along with the mayor and auditor, are on the ballot. Under this voter-approved makeover, City Council members will no longer oversee city bureaus but serve as more traditional legislators representing geographic districts and proposing city policy.
A letter sent to the City Council by the Government Transition Advisory Committee, which advises the council on the government transition, described the proposed staffing as “inadequate.”
“With the shifting roles in the new form of government, individual councilors will need support for both legislative policy-making and budgetary analysis and adoption, now solely the council’s responsibility,” the letter reads. “Furthermore, the new districted governance must staff and support constituent service and community engagement for each councilor.”
The committee didn’t suggest how many staff each council member should be granted.
They did, however, point to an ordinance passed by Portland City Council in November, which laid out a tentative staffing plan for the new council, where each council office is assigned two employees. But, by the end of that month, the council had approved a spending plan by the City Budget Office that only funded one council staffer per office.
The initial two-person staffing plan was recommended by city staff who oversee the government transition in the Office of Management and Finance. Christine Llobregat, a spokesperson for the transition project, said she believes the City Council approved a plan with a downsized proposal to cut costs.
The city is entering budget discussions for the coming fiscal year in the red. With $2 million in revenue shortfalls, Mayor Ted Wheeler is requiring most city bureaus to cut their annual budgets by 5%. This mandate could hinder any hopes of expanding staffing on the new council, at least for the new government’s first year.
In a GTAC meeting last week, city staff said the proposed budget for council offices only includes enough money for one employee. City financial analyst Ben Smith said the draft budget ensures that a single council staffer could receive an annual salary that stretches anywhere from $82,000 to $124,000.
That budget allows for five employees in the incoming mayor’s office. Mayor Ted Wheeler currently has 17 employees. Wheeler, who said he’s dedicating his final year in office to ensuring the incoming City Council is set up for success, told OPB that it’s too early in the budget process to comment on any proposal.
The City Council will discuss the new council’s administrative costs at a Thursday work session. They will vote to approve the city’s final budget in June