A sustainable future for our park system

A Sustainable Future
Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R) is committed to establishing a more financially sustainable direction, that aligns equitable service and funding levels – for the long term.
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To deliver critical community services, the program is focusing on identifying stable revenue sources to fund three major categories of work:

  • Operations - equitable park and recreation programs, services and routine maintenance of parks, natural areas, facilities, and trees.
  • Capital Maintenance - maintain or replace existing facilities preventing asset failures, such as the replacement of a roof or major repair of a play structure.
  • Capital Growth - expand the capacity of the park system to meet the needs of a growing Portland, and address inequitable access to parks, natural areas, trees, and facilities.

Financial Sustainability Work to Date

2019: Program Created, Task Force, Council Work Session

Portland’s park and recreation system requires additional, sustained, funding to deliver the services Portlanders have said they need and value. In 2019, after trying for many years to deliver sustainable services without sufficient resources, the Bureau started a Sustainable Future initiative to strategically begin to align its resources and services. Early steps included:

  • Alternative Funding Task Force: During the summer and fall of 2019, the Bureau convened a community Alternative Funding Task Force to provide advice and consultation on a variety of alternative funding options to consider.  
  • City Council Sustainable Future Work Session: In November 2019, the Bureau held a work session with City Council to review its financial and service level forecasts, and potential alternative funding options. At that work session, the Bureau received support to pursue additional funding to change course and get the Bureau on track to fulfill service levels. Specifically, City Council encouraged the Bureau to continue pursuing a variety of options, including income tax, a temporary levy, formation of a special district, capital bonds, and a food and beverage tax.
2020: Parks Local Option Levy (Parks Levy)

In early 2020, the Bureau was advancing work on a number of those options, but COVID impacted both services and Bureau finances. Given the immediate criticality of operational funding gaps, the Bureau polled a bond (which could address capital maintenance needs) and a temporary levy (which could address operational needs), and both on the same ballot. With highest polling support for an operating levy on its own, the City Council referred a levy to the ballot, which Portland voters approved in November 2020.  

The 2020 voter-approved 5-year Parks Levy allowed the Bureau to avoid devastating service cuts and make progress on operating services, but it is a temporary funding solution, and did not solve all the Bureau’s long-term ongoing financial needs. 

The Bureau is continuing its work towards a future where it can fulfill operations, capital maintenance, and capital growth service levels with sustainable funding.

2021-22: Parks Levy Year 1 Implementation

Fiscal Year 2021-22 was the initial year for the 5-year Parks Levy. The program worked to develop procedures, programs, and partnerships to ensure successful delivery of Parks Levy-funded services for the community.  Parks Levy funds supported three categories of services:

  • Recreation for All: Preserved hundreds of living-wage jobs to deliver recreation services and keep community centers and pools open, provided COVID-19 responsible summer programs in 2021, and piloted financial access models to reduce cost as a barrier to access.
  • Protect and Grow Nature:  Added living-wage jobs to improve the daily care of our trees, natural areas and developed parks, including cleaning parks and keeping public restrooms open, performing pro-active tree maintenance and planting trees.
  • Community Partnerships: Strengthened community partnerships by establishing the Parks Levy Oversight Committee, expanded community grant program, and deepened partnerships that support park services. 
2022: Evaluating Needs and Opportunities

A community advisory group is meeting during Summer of 2022 to review alternative funding options for PP&R to support a financially sustainable parks system, as well as provide advice and consultation to PP&R Director Adena Long on the alternative funding sequencing of potential future ballot initiatives, which the Director can consider in collaboration and coordination with the Parks Commissioner-in-Charge.

Alternative Funding Options

To assist the research of possible funding alternatives in 2019, PP&R convened community members on an Alternative Funding Task Force. Additional input was sought from the Trust for Public Land, Portland State University’s Northwest Economic Research Center, and experts from across the Bureau and City.

Of the six funding options discussed at the November 2019 City Council work session, four options were highlighted for further consideration:

  • General obligation bond
  • Special district
  • Local option levy
  • Prepared food and beverage tax
  • Transient lodging tax (not recommended)
  • Cell phone tax (not recommended)

In addition, at the work session Council instructed PP&R to explore an income tax as a possible funding option.

City Council Work Session - November 26, 2019

Creating a sustainable future for Portland Parks & Recreation

Resource Documents

Portland Parks & Recreation’s developing civil rights page offers information related to making programming more accessible and inclusive.