Metro planning department faces cuts in first draft of upcoming budget
Metro's planning budget could shrink by more than 15 percent under a first draft of the regional government's 2012-13 budget.
The $2.6 million drop in the planning budget includes layoffs – some of which have already happened – and non-renewal of limited-duration positions that were set to expire at the end of the 2011-12 fiscal year on June 30.
Overall, Metro chief operating officer Martha Bennett's initial budget proposal calls for the net loss of 18 of the agency's roughly 750 full time equivalencies. Last year's budget cut five positions. Eleven of those 18 positions are already vacant.
The planning department's reorganization is part of a shift toward focusing more on spurring development within the urban growth boundary, around existing infrastructure, moving away from concentrating on planning new transit corridors and regulating outward growth.
Part of the impetus for that is a decrease in federal funding. Bennett said grant funding is expected to drop by about 10 percent next year, much of that being money no longer coming from Washington, D.C.
And with the federal transportation funding scheme still in flux, there's little pressing need to work on voluminous environmental studies of potential transit projects.
In late February, two planning managers were laid off in the first phase of the reorganization.
"The council asked us to become community development focused, and that's what we're doing," said planning director Robin McArthur in an interview last month. "The same structure we've had for the past 20 years just wasn't going to work."
Of the 18 eliminated positions across the regional government, seven were limited-duration positions that are being allowed to expire. That, too, marks a change from past practices.
"We used temps and LD's (limited-duration positions) as a way to permanently grow FTE (full time equivalent jobs)," said Bennett, who was hired as chief operating officer last autumn. "If we need the FTE, we should advocate for the program or service and just come out and say 'We need this person to perform this.'"
Plus, she said, Metro departments need to take a harder look at whether programs planned to be temporary should, indeed, end.
"If we said this was a limited program, and it had an end date, we should end it," Bennett said. "And if we're not going to end it, we should come in and say, openly, we're not going to end it and this is why."
Bennett's initial 2012-13 budget proposal trims the regional government's overall operations spending by 2 percent, from $86.1 million to $84 million.
The budget also calls for Metro to start selling about $156 million in bonds approved by voters in 2006 and 2008 – $85 million for natural areas acquisition and $71 million for projects at the Oregon Zoo. That's significantly more than the $47 million the regional government is projected to spend in the current fiscal year.
In the proposed budget, property owners within Metro would see a tax hike because of the bond sales. Metro finance director Margo Norton said that the owner of a home with an assessed value of $200,000 would see their taxes rise no more than $34 a year.
The regional government's baseline property tax rate would not change; Metro expects to collect $12 million in property taxes in 2012-13, a smaller contribution to the budget than ticket sales at the Oregon Zoo.
Metro's solid waste fees will also change, but those numbers won't be determined until April.
The proposal calls for nearly $500,000 to be spent on Metro's parks – including $331,000 for improvements at Glendoveer Golf Course and $100,000 to study where to put new roads and buildings at Oxbow Regional Park so they aren't vulnerable to future Sandy River floods.
The budget calls for $639,000 to fund the Community Investment Initiative, $519,000 to look at developing hotel capacity near the Oregon Convention Center and $592,000 for a new website for Metro.
Bennett's proposed budget will be reviewed by the Metro Council in late April, then checked by regulators before the council's final vote in June. The new fiscal year starts July 1.
Note: In the interest of disclosing unavoidable conflicts, readers should know that two elements of this story directly impact Metro News. The editor's position is a limited-duration position set to expire in 2013. Metro News will be part of the website redesign. Read Metro News' ethics guidelines.