In the largest expansion of Multnomah County responsibilities in modern times, Chair Deborah Kafoury released her 2022 Executive Budget today, a $2.81 billion plan of action that tackles the immediate COVID-19 crisis and launches once-in-a generation efforts to end people’s homelessness and elevate libraries and early childhood education.
Released just two weeks after the Board of Commissioners declared racism a public health crisis, the Executive Budget reflects the principles that guided the County’s COVID-19 response: move upstream to prevent crisis and then co-create — with community — those interventions, policies and environments that promote health and safety equitably.
The Chair takes that same approach to funding across County services. But she also applies that lens to strategically deploying $78.8 million in the County’s first share of new American Rescue Plan federal recovery funds, from providing families enhanced summer programming through SUN schools, to serving people in a mental health crisis to developing strategies to reduce gun violence.
“This year’s Executive Budget is the most ambitious and forward-thinking budget that I’ve submitted in my years as Chair. It is built on the belief that Multnomah County is steadfast in times of stability and in times of crisis, and that we can be a transformative force for the community,’’ Chair Kafoury said.
Propelled by three historic, voter-approved ballot measures and the American Rescue Plan, the Chair’s 2022 budget — which funds services from July 1, 2021, through June 30, 2022 — represents a 37 percent increase in community investments over 2021.
“We’ll carry out the recovery and the voters’ wishes with the diligent financial management and oversight that has earned Multnomah County industry awards and the highest credit ratings a government can achieve,’’ Chair Kafoury said.
Closing the budget gap
The 2022 budget began with a $9.2 million gap as the COVID-19 pandemic drove job losses and industry shutdowns. The economic contraction that began in March 2020 was unprecedented outside of wartime. But the Chair was able to protect the County’s public health and safety net response by investing its CARES Act funds and those from the city of Portland, and making surgical reductions. As COVID-19 restrictions eased, recovery came faster than most economists expected, closing the revenue gap and resulting in a 4 percent increase in the County General Fund, to $723 million.
Beyond that economic turnaround, Metro voters in May 2020 approved a new business income tax and personal income tax on high-income households to support permanent supportive housing for people who need wraparound services to get and keep their apartments.
The Chair’s budget includes $52 million of new programming in the Joint Office of Homeless Services, which will partner with other County departments and community providers to provide rent assistance, behavioral health and addiction services, increased shelter capacity and street outreach. The Chair’s plan for the measure would help as many as 1,300 households experiencing homelessness find and keep affordable, services-connected homes, and help nearly 1,000 more households keep the housing they already have.
In November 2020, Multnomah County voters also approved a new personal income tax on high-income households to fund preschool for all 3- and 4-year olds. The program will be run by the Department of County Human Services, and the budget includes $96.3 million of new revenue to build the program before children begin filling slots in the fall of 2022.
Finally, in November 2020, Multnomah County voters also approved a bond measure to raise $387 million to transform the Library, renovating seven library branches and building a new, more efficient operations center and East County flagship library.
“Results speak for themselves. Our community will see the benefit of these investments almost immediately with nearly 1,300 people gaining housing in the next year; with supports for preschool providers and designs underway at four neighborhood libraries,'’ Chair Kafoury said. “But these investments will also change what it’s like to live in Multnomah County for decades to come by reducing homelessnness, giving all our kids the best start in their education and reinforcing our beloved public libraries.’’
Investing in individual and public health
Central to the Chair’s Executive Budget is maintaining the County’s vigorous public health response to COVID-19 and adding case investigation and data staff. (See more in ARPA below.) The budget also maintains crisis, urgent walk-in and school-based health behavioral health services, while making permanent an African American mental health consultant position for children and families who are impacted by community and gang violence.
The budget adds culturally specific mental health services for children; data mapping for immigrant and refugee services; and a Medical Examiner position. True to the Chair’s goal of reaching those most harmed or at risk of early death and disease, it also fully funds the Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) program to reduce chronic illness in Black and African immigrant and refugee communities; the Healthy Birth Initiative to improve birth outcomes and futures for Black families; and the Community Partnerships and Capacity Building team that trains community health workers and coordinates with historically marginalized communities, particularly the Pacific Islander, Native American and Latinx communities.
Changing the criminal legal system
The Chair’s budget focuses on reducing racism in the criminal legal system by funding a new Conviction Integrity Unit in the District Attorney’s Office to help address historic impacts on Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. It expands the Department of Community Justice’s Community Healing Initiative to reduce violence among African immigrant and refugee youth on probation and expands the Equity and Inclusion unit in the Sheriff’s Office.
It also invests in the creation of a Black/African American Mobile Behavioral Health team to serve justice-involved individuals who are re-entering the community from incarceration and increases the Addictions Benefit Coordination team to help people with substance use disorders acquire treatment.
And it includes $550,000 in one-time-only transition funding in the Department of Community Justice so providers can continue outpatient treatment for justice-involved individuals until services funded by Ballot Measure 110 become available.
“The COVID-19 crisis has shined a light on the many inequities that we have long wrestled with, but it also revealed the County’s capacity to find solutions in partnership with community, and move with conviction toward making things right,’’ Chair Kafoury said.
Strengthening the safety net
The budget maintains the County’s spending in SUN Schools and adds a position dedicated to high school students and a youth coordinator at the Department of County Human Services’ Bienestar de la Familia. It expands the Domestic Violence Response Unit to 24/7 services. And, it funds a fair housing audit program to assess discrimination in housing access to Gresham, Fairview, Troutdale and Wood Village, testing that currently occurs only within Portland city limits.
The Chair’s Budget includes investments in County infrastructure, including $23.5 million towards the next phase of the Earthquake Ready Burnside Bridge project to replace the current span with a seismically resilient one. And, an additional $7.3 million to the County’s new Behavioral Health Resource Center to bring life-saving supports to people experiencing chronic homelessness in the downtown core.
Reductions in programs and operations
Finally, the Executive Budget reflects reductions in some areas, including in administrative and back offices across departments. Among the $3.2 million cuts in public safety are the elimination of Inverness Jail East Control center positions and kitchen deputies, along with the Turn Self In program, which allowed individuals to serve sentences on nonconsecutive days. DCJ also dropped two positions after eliminating the collection of supervision fees as a part of the public safety reform approved by the County Commissioners in FY 2021. Juvenile detention capacity is reduced by eight beds from 64 to 56 beds as the County continues to reduce reliance on secured detention and find alternatives to detention without impacting public safety.
Besides the General Fund reductions, several programs were also reduced because of changes in state funding, including closing Inverness Jail Dorm 11 (78 beds) and eliminating two Sheriff’s corrections counselors due to reductions from State Senate Bill 1145.
Source: Multnomah County Commission Chair Deborah Kafoury