PORTLAND, Ore. – In an effort to balance the city's budget Mayor Charlie Hales is taking a big chunk out of funding for youth employment and internships.
He is cutting $395,000 for summer youth and grant programs. He also plans to save another $600,000 by cutting his staff from 25 down to 14 employees. But that only trims less than a million of the $25 million shortfall the city faces.
John Charles, with the Cascade Policy Institute, a nonprofit, public policy research organization, said the cuts are a good first step.
"I'm positive about both the mayor hiring a smaller staff than his predecessor and cutting some programs," he said. "Those are two small steps in a long march that has to be ahead of us to introduce some fiscal discipline for the city."
Charles said the city still needs to address two of its biggest expenditures: urban renewal and the rising costs of Portland police and fire pension and disability funds.
Parkrose High School senior Tria Mcferson said Thursday her life would be different if one of the programs on the chopping block hadn’t existed.
Earlier this month, Mcferson learned she'd get to sit near President Barack Obama at his inauguration and was honored with the trip because of her hard work as an intern through the Summer Youth Connect program.
Mcferson credits the program for her success.
Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith chose to take Mcferson with her to Washington, D.C. out of 50 interns last summer. She picked Mcferson because she shined in her job and even organized meetings with other interns each week.
"We got in those groups and shared our personal and our job experiences and everyone got along, and we just met every Friday. We all just talked," Mcferson said.
Mcferson just flew home this week from Washington, D.C. and is back at school where she said it feels a little different.
"More people started to talk to me now. (I) got a little famous," she said.
Mcferson said sat outside the Capitol just behind the band.
"It was really cool to see him (the president) and his family. So that was kind of heart racing," she said.
Summer Youth Connect Program didn't fund those presidential seats. They were a gift from U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer's office. But Mcferson’s airfare and hotel were paid for by a local nonprofit that supports the program and is now losing city funding.
"It was motivation for us to know we could get up every morning and be able to go somewhere and do something with ourselves instead of always sitting in the house, or always watching TV or always being at a friend's house or something," Mcferson said.
Mcferson graduates this year. She's focused on college now, but while she was at the Capitol she took the time to talk to officials at the Department of Labor, telling them why the program works and that summer jobs for teens should be promoted in cities all over the country.
"I felt like I was representing people that's just like me," she said.
Commissioner Smith said Thursday that Multnomah County is still committed to Summer Youth Connect and plans to continue to offer paid summer internships. She said she will talk to the mayor and hopes he'll reconsider the funding cuts.