Statement on Costs
While we recognize the potential educational value of cost estimates, we also realize that fiscal notes may also be used as a political tool to stop a piece of proposed legislation. We hope that this is not the intended purpose of Mayor Snyder in requesting this report. However, by lumping all questions into a bottom line price tag, we fear that this report is biased toward inflating the total cost of the charter questions and painting the charter commission as fiscally irresponsible.
(We note, for example, that the City Council does not give a lump-sum cost estimate on every item on their work plan at the onset of deliberation.)
Although the estimates are itemized, they are not tabulated, so it is difficult to parse out how the final number for the eight charter amendment questions was arrived at in terms of one-time costs vs. ongoing costs. That, as you know, is comparing apples to oranges.
Furthermore, some of the figures appear to be inaccurate, speculative, or actually negligible. Additionally, many of the amendments leave costs largely or entirely to the discretion of the council.
- Administration of a special election is estimated at $75,000. We note that this would need to be spent only if there is an unexpected vacancy. However, these are not guaranteed yearly costs and feel inaccurate to include.
- A number of the costs appear to be associated with facilities, such as office renovations to accommodate new hires. While it is not in our capacity to comment on the physical configuration of desks and rooms, it appears that certain one-time costs have been rolled into the bundle of annual costs. The memo asserts that unspecified “changes” would need to be made to City Hall to accommodate this proposal, but doesn’t specify what those changes are, only that they would cost $25,000. We question whether those changes are needed and whether it is impossible to adapt existing space and equipment.
- There is no guarantee that council review of the school budgets will always generate cost savings. Indeed, the council could recommend spending more. The staff memo speculates, without evidence, that giving the school board more autonomy in setting their budget might have an impact on the city’s credit score, but by its own admission that depends entirely on “how this new authority is ultimately exercised.” Of course it does – the city’s credit score also depends on how the city council and school board exercise their current authorities every year.
- The memo’s figures on police review and liaison work are wrong. The police liaison is an existing position that attends meetings with the current board to advise on standard operating procedures. The salary estimate for that position should be eliminated as it is an already existing cost. The community liaison position could likely be a part-time position or could be added to the duties of existing employees or, if the Council so chooses, The Accountability Officer as described in question 8. Thus a more accurate assessment of costs might fall in the range of $0 to $60,000.
- The position of Accountability Officer is left solely to the discretion of the city council. Nevertheless we applaud the City Manager for recognizing the importance of such a position by awarding it fair compensation of $125,000. One rationale for the high salary is the hope for the person in that position to resolve disputes and thus save the city money in lawsuits and ineffective staff time.
- It is difficult to tell whether the City Manager/Administrator’s entire salary was added into the cost total, or merely the $11,000 raise that the mayor rather speculatively included. It is, of course, within the purview of the mayor and City Council to reduce or maintain that salary rather than raising it.
Again due to several contingencies, council discretion, speculative estimating, and not seeing a tabulation, it is hard to give an accurate re-estimate. However, our best calculation estimates that the total cost would be closer to $500,000, resulting in a tax increase to the median homeowner of about $12. That’s assuming the fiscally conscious mayor and councilors are not able to trim other costs.
The proposed reforms will give voters MORE power to decide where their tax dollars go, through expanding the ability of people with limited incomes to run for office and moving decision-making more firmly into the hands of people elected by the voters. This power might have prevented tax dollars being used on unpopular projects such as the “leaseback loophole” for the $25 million homeless services center, or the failed Midtown development.
We look forward to a productive and thoughtful conversation with Portland voters about these proposals in the coming weeks, and encourage everyone to make plans to express their opinion by voting.
Yes for Democracy is a registered Ballot Question Committee encouraging voters to vote YES on questions 1 through 8 on the Portland ballot Nov. 8. Learn more at https://yesfordemocracy.me.