May 13: A proposed County budget shaped by a once-in-a-lifetime crisis

May 13, 2020

For the most up-to-date information about Multnomah County's COVID-19 response, please check our COVID-19 website, and the County’s Twitter and Facebook channels, often. You can also contact my office if you have any other questions.

Dear friends and neighbors,

Four months ago, when I began preparing my executive budget for fiscal year 2021, we were drawing a road map to a destination we knew well. We could see costs ahead, but we understood them: like the need to finish the new County Courthouse or create a downtown resource center

We had revenue challenges, but we had the experience and acumen to navigate them. And thanks to  an updated business income tax rate, we could even begin finally addressing the structural deficit that, if left unchecked, would devastate County services.

Then in the space of a few winter days, a virus that didn’t even have a name arrived. COVID-19 changed everything. And it is reshaping life as we know it — we just don’t know the full extent of those changes yet.

Last Thursday, I released my executive budget for the next fiscal year, knowing that the ground is still shifting.

COVID-19 has hit every local government hard, but Multnomah County is not just any local government. As I’ve shared with you through this newsletter over the last two months, the County’s unique role has been foundational to our community’s response to this pandemic. Multnomah County is simultaneously the public health authority leading our region through the pandemic and the state’s largest safety net responding to an unprecedented demand for services. 

The budget implications of being both are unprecedented.

Since March, our revenue from the business income and motor vehicle rental taxes has plummeted. At the same time, our need to keep our community safe has increased. In response, the Multnomah County has:

  • Added 24 nurses and epidemiologists investigating COVID-19 cases to a total of 31.
  • Opened 450 new shelter beds in physical distancing shelters and more than 120 beds at medical shelters.
  • Hired nearly 80 temporary workers to work in the new physical distancing shelters and hired 18 nurses, physician assistants and physicians for the medical shelters. 
  • Maintained our health clinics, elections, protective services, domestic violence prevention, parole and probation, jails, crisis call centers and other essential social programs throughout the stay-at-home orders.

Elections worker plexiglass
A Multnomah County Elections Division staff member stands behind a recently-installed plexiglass screen that allows her to serve the public safely throughout election season.
This necessary spending, combined with the drop in revenue, opened a $58 million hole in our General Fund for fiscal year 2021. And while the County received $28 million from the federal CARES Act to help defray some of these costs in this and next year’s budgets, it comes nowhere close to covering the more-than-$75 million it will take to sustain our current efforts to keep our community safe.

We are in a moment where every dollar in this budget counts because it can save lives. 

There’s still a lot of work left to do before the budget comes to a vote for adoption by the Board of County Commissioners on June 11. Over the next several weeks, we will receive the latest financial forecasts, hear presentations from every County department and hold work sessions. 

It’s also important for us to invite you, the members of our community, into a participatory budgeting process. We will also host two virtual public hearings to provide an opportunity for direct feedback from the public about what’s important to you and what you’d like to see in our final budget. Please join us from 6 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, May 20 or Wednesday, May 27. Dates and times are subject to change, so keep an eye on the County’s website and social media for any updates.

I hope that you will be able to join the conversation to make your voice heard during this turning point in our community’s story. In preparation, you can review my proposed executive budget here

The fiscal challenges ahead of us are extraordinary. But I am committed to leaning into Multnomah County’s core values of equity, safety, trust and belonging to both guide our most difficult choices and shape our work in the year ahead. 

Sincerely,

Deborah Kafoury
Multnomah County Chair

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