Taking the Scalpel to PDOT

The 3rd meeting of PDOT’s budget advisory committee was held last Friday. The task is to take $8.3M out of PDOT’s budget due to declining buying power of the gas tax and re-distributions of population.

It feels like we’re pretty close to getting there, without huge impacts on services.

The largest single item is $4.3M from positions that are temporarily unfilled. This occurs when employees (particularly in the Bureau of Maintenance) turn over. Naturally, finding a replacement takes a little time, and during that time, no paycheck is going out. This budget adjustment just recognizes that reality. I’m a little surprised this one has not been captured in prior budget cycles, as it should show up clearly as a surplus at the end of each budget year.

There are about another $1.5M in ‘efficiencies’, reductions from doing things smarter, in ways that don’t reduce service levels. For example, there is a savings of about $700K from changing wireless carriers for the ‘SmartMeter’ parking meters and switching to a different credit card processing system with lower fees (my understanding is this is in part enabled by the UnWire Portland initiative).

There are another 23 items that cut program expenses that DO reduce services, but not those that are felt to be ‘core’ services based on community input. For example, reducing speed bump construction by a third and cutting maintenance on the transit mall (doesn’t make a lot of sense to maintain concrete that we’re about to tear up to put in light rail). No question that we’ll miss those speed bumps, but it’s not in the same league as letting streets fall apart from neglect. A few of these items were questioned by the advisory committee (cutting back some preventative maintenance of signals and relying on user complaints to find those that fail) and I expect we’ll see some swapping in and out of a few items.

But on the whole the exercise did not involve as many painful choices as I had expected, and I’m glad the Commissioner drove the bureau through this exercise before seeking new revenue sources. If and when we do seek new revenues – for things citizens value highly – we’ll have more credibility for having done this.

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