Portland's Graffiti Abatement Program on chopping block this upcoming fiscal year

You could see more graffiti around Portland because the city's Graffiti Abatement Program is on the chopping block. (KATU Photo)

One year after Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into graffiti removal, the city's Graffiti Abatement Program is on the chopping block.

The mayor's office recently asked each Bureau to reduce their budgets by about four or five percent.

In response, the Office of Neighborhood Involvement (ONI) is proposing to cut the two-employee, $400,000 Graffiti Abatement Program.

The program provides free and reduced cost removal services to residents through agreements held with two private contractors. These removals allow for small businesses, residents and nonprofit organizations throughout Portland to receive one free or discounted graffiti removal per fiscal year. The contractors performing these removals function as consultants for victims and explain the importance of quick removal to reduce graffiti proliferation.

On average, it costs $225 to remove graffiti.

The city says one of the best ways to deter more graffiti is by removing it in a timely fashion.

Without the program, property owners would assume responsibility and cost for removing tags.

"I think they should keep it," Portlander Jake Dukelo said, referring to the proposed cut. "It's kind of a pain to see it."

Graffiti is considered a livability issue.

According to a 2017 report, the number of graffiti reports and cost of damages dramatically increased over a five-year period between 2011 and 2016.

In 2016, the Graffiti Abatement Program received 7,696 reports and estimated damages to be $1.8 million.

"It just goes on and on, and on," Jenel Dukelo said. "They cover it up, and then they're back."

The program relies on a complaint driven reporting system. These reports include: requests for removal service from property owners, complaints from constituents about addresses negligent in addressing graffiti, and requests for publicly owned locations to be cleaned.

ONI Director Suk Rhee says the proposed program cut is not a negative comment on the hardworking employees and coordinators.

"The program is incredibly important to the city," Rhee said. "But we need to have a more effective program ... the biggest challenge for ONI is that we cannot address this alone."

ONI historically received help from the Portland Police Bureau, but resources to track Portland's most prolific taggers were cut in 2015.

"It is a citywide issue," Rhee said, "and it really deserves a multi-bureau response."

There's still a chance the Graffiti Abatement Program can be saved. In recent past years, when the program has been on the chopping block, the mayor's office and city commissioners opted to retain some funding, recognizing its importance.

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