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Ore. mayor pushes full-funding of mental health crisis response program

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler promoted funding to spare the non-police intervention service

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Mark Graves

By Shane Dixon Kavanaugh
oregonlive.com

PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said Thursday that his proposed budget for next fiscal year will spare a popular non-police intervention program from the chopping block.

In addition to fully funding Portland Street Response, Wheeler said he will seek to stave off all potential cuts to the city’s cash-strapped Fire Bureau and protect other public safety services from being scaled back.

He teased those details and other tidbits during a press briefing held to highlight portions of a proposed $8.2 billion budget, which his office won’t make public until Friday.

According to city budget officials, the mayor will recommend the city spend $732 million, a 3.5% increase from the current $708 million, in discretionary funds, which comprise the bulk of the city’s general fund.

General fund coffers received a cash infusion of about $38 million from the Portland Clean Energy Fund , the city’s lucrative, one-of-a-kind climate justice tax on large retailers.

Wheeler said Portland Street Response, which sends teams of mental health professionals and EMTs instead of armed police officers to assist people in crisis on the streets, would remain at its current staffing level under his plan.

The program last year had an operating budget of about $10 million — half of which came from one-time funding sources outside the city — but faced a potential $3 million in cuts for the coming year.

The mayor also said his budget would patch an $11 million fiscal gap faced by Portland Fire & Rescue amid a surge in overtime spending for firefighters and other personnel. Wheeler’s proposal includes hiring 10 new firefighters to help contain overtime costs and money to continue the bureau’s Community Health Assess & Treat pilot for at least another year, he said.

That program, known as CHAT, sends pairs of fire medics — rather than firefighters and their engines — to help certain Portland residents who are known to be huge users of 911 and emergency room visits. Fire officials have also used the medic teams this year to treat people who have overdosed outside in Old Town and other parts of Portland.

“My budget fully funds public safety bureaus and public safety programs,” Wheeler said.

Additionally, the mayor said he will seek to continue investing millions of dollars into clearing homeless encampments, picking up trash and removing graffiti by establishing a new citywide program focused on livability issues branded as “Portland Solutions.”

He also touted the pending launch of a new Portland Permitting & Development Bureau, currently under the control of Commissioner Carmen Rubio. The bureau aims to streamline the city’s byzantine — and almost universally loathed — system for commercial and residential building permits, which currently spans seven separate agencies.

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