Long-term, maximum benefits to local residents envisioned for use of funds
The Metro Council late last week approved a resolution to spend the remaining $1.6 million in the North Portland enhancement fund by 2018 on a local trail and select neighborhood improvement projects proposed by the community. The council’s unanimous vote supported the recommendation of a committee comprised of North Portland residents that administers the fund.
"The deadline gives us the discipline and flexibility to sunset the fund," said Councilor Rex Burkholder, whose district includes North Portland and who chairs the grant committee. "The community needs help now; it’s time to start making hard choices."
Established in 1985 by an act of the Oregon Legislature, Metro’s North Portland enhancement grant program is a mitigation fund to compensate the community affected by the now-closed St. Johns Landfill. Funds were generated from a 50-cent surcharge imposed on each ton of garbage disposed of at the landfill. Interest generated on the fund – more than $2.2 million - has supported 465 local improvement projects that directly benefit residents or neighborhoods around the landfill, including Arbor Lodge, Cathedral Park, Kenton, Overlook, Portsmouth, St. Johns and University Park.
The committee’s request echoed input and advice about the future of the grant program gathered from local residents, service providers and stakeholders by the committee in the summer and fall of 2012. Committee members addressed the council, explaining how they generated the recommendation and circumstances that called for changes.
"Every year we’ve struggled with significant impacts on the fund," said Cece Hughley Noel, a representative from Portsmouth on Metro’s committee since 2009. "We’ve been nickel-and -diming our way to address issues in our community."
Shawn DeCarlo, a representative from St. Johns on Metro’s committee, said, "People had varying opinions about how to spend the remaining fund balance, but they spoke in unison about the local community continuing to be the primary beneficiary of the remaining funds. On this they were unequivocal."
But Shelley Oylear, a past grant recipient and former chair of the Overlook Neighborhood Association, said that the original intent of protecting the funds in perpetuity was not considered.
"Not having those dollars available in the future is really disappointing," she said.
The sentiment was not lost on Council President Tom Hughes.
"It’s difficult because we’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of this fund," Hughes said.
According to DeCarlo, the committee wants to leverage remaining funds to create long-term, maximum benefits.
"We want to explore approaches that will allow us to accomplish this," he added.
The committee will solicit advice from local grant-making professionals and others when it meets again beginning in early 2013. At that time it will consider what portion of the remaining fund will be dedicated to grant awards for future neighborhood improvement projects and the amount to dedicate to North Portland Greenway trail project costs. The trail is a regional project that will knit together bike and pedestrian infrastructure from Pier Park to Smith and Bybee Wetlands and Kelley Point Park. Thousands of North Portland residents live in close proximity to planned improvements.