Among the items caught in the squeeze of City Hall’s budget crunch are nearly 200 public restrooms in Portland parks that could be shuttered this summer during peak season.
Portland Parks and Recreation’s Budget Advisory Committee says the city could save $771,910 by closing most of the city’s public park restrooms and replacing them with half as many portable toilets. In all, 189 toilets would be closed.
Not all toilets are included in the proposal. Those toilets not affected would be those at Hoyt Arboretum and Lower Macleay Park, as well as all restrooms that are already closed or maintained by contracted services, including most of those in the downtown area and Pioneer Courthouse Square.
This is one of numerous cuts proposed for the Parks and Recreation Bureau to reach the 4 to 8 percent spending reductions Mayor Sam Adams has asked of all city departments. Other cuts include reducing daily trash removal from the parks and discontinuing the elm program to fight Dutch elm disease.
The proposals come from the bureau’s Budget Advisory Committee. The final recommendations from all city bureaus will be submitted to the mayor’s office at the end of the month.
Not only will there be half has many toilets at these parks, but cleaning and other services for the portable units will be performed only three times a week, if the cuts go through as proposed. The savings include cutting 10 full-time positions.
“All cards are on the table in terms of considerations,” said Mark Ross, media relations coordinator with PPR. “This is the fourth straight year in budget cuts. I think people will notice a tangible change in the services we deliver.”
Ross said the department has trimmed $2.7 million from its budget over the past three years, including 24 percent cuts to administration. The 4 to 8 percent in cuts proposed this year represents between $1.7 million and $3.5 million. The park restroom cuts were part of all reduction package proposals.
The proposed closures are not sitting well with the city’s leading restrooms advocacy group, PHLUSH, who say the bathrooms serve many hygiene needs, specifically for the homeless.
“You can’t close restrooms where they’re already serving a population that needs water,” said Carol McCreary with PHLUSH. “You can’t wash your face with hand sanitizer.”
“There are homeless people who live throughout the city, families who live throughout the city, these are the quiet communities who we don’t hear from a lot,” McCreary said. “These are the ones who are disenfranchised by this.”
In it’s proposal, the Budget Advisory Committee noted that fewer restrooms is going to place greater stress on those portable toilets available, and the watered-down cleaning and maintenance schedule will also reduce the quality and cleanliness of the service.
Just over a year ago, the city, under the direction of Commissioner Randy Leonard, launched the Portland Loo project and began installing public toilets around town. Those are under the management of the water bureau and do not fall under the PPR cuts. The downtown service contract was awarded to Portland Habilitation Center Northwest.
All budget proposals head to the Mayor’s office at the end of the month, and the budget process will continue through May.
Ross said that one silver lining in this proposal is that if and when the economy improves, the bathrooms will still be there and can be reopened.
“It’s not like we’re tearing apart programs,” Ross said.
Look for more on the budget cuts, including the Portland Housing Bureau, in the next edition of Street Roots.
By Joanne Zuhl