Amid COVID-19 pandemic and outcry for racial justice, Board of Commissioners approves $2.06 billion budget

June 23, 2020

The Board of Commissioners today approved a $2.06 billion budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, maintaining Multnomah County’s core safety net services while tackling urgent needs to combat COVID-19, advance equity and reform the criminal system.

The 2021 budget, Chair Deborah Kafoury’s sixth as County Chair, and 11th as a member of the Board, was developed as a pandemic, an economic recession and public outcry for racial justice all placed record demands and revenue pressure on the County. 

By combining new revenue from the updated Business Income Tax with a 2 percent cut to every department and a salary freeze for management and exempt staff, the County maintained programs that address housing insecurity, food instability, trauma and inadequate access to healthcare. Those programs are now more important than ever.

“The budget is our strongest policy document and because we are Multnomah County, people — our employees, our community members — are at the center,’’ said Chair Kafoury. 

“We have been charged with finding a way to meet the critical needs of our community members in a way that also tends to the financial health of this organization. And while this year has been an unprecedented challenge, I believe that our budget accomplishes that.”

The FY 2021 budget: 

  • Addresses the County’s structural deficit in part with a long-overdue update to the Business Income Tax rate. 

  • Maintains core safety net services and increases investments in culturally specific services, “putting our dollars in the hands of community organizations who have the trust, lived experience and relationships to reach people that traditional government approaches cannot,’’ Chair Kafoury said.

  • Avoids deep reductions in staffing by forgoing cost of living adjustments among non-union-represented employees and freezing the pay of managers.  

  • Invests nearly $90 million in local, state and federal funds to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic with contract tracing, shelter and wraparound services, prioritizing the people who are most vulnerable to severe illness and death. 

  • Begins to answer the call for public safety reforms by funding community supports that are needed long before someone has an encounter with law enforcement, starting with a $2 million community health reinvestment plan. 

    • The changes include the closure of a jail dorm; eliminating fines and fees associated with our criminal justice system; defunding the County’s contribution to the School Resource Program; reducing the District Attorney’s budget around prosecuting misdemeanor offenses; investing in supports for Black women who are exiting our criminal justice system; adding a SUN site to KairosPDX in North Portland; expanding the Legal Services Day program; expanding community-centered partnerships to support families of youth on probation; and restoring cuts to the County’s Healthy Birth Initiative.

  • Provides $32.6 million for the Joint Office of Homeless Services, maintaining service levels while also including $1 million in new efforts to reach people of color and a first-time $250,000 investment in homeless services for trans and non-binary people. The COVID-19 investments include an additional $39.9 million for the Joint Office to respond to the virus.

  • Continues workforce equity efforts by supporting equity and inclusion managers throughout the organization, and maintaining capacity in the Office of Diversity and Equity, Organizational Learning, and the independent Complaints Investigations Unit.

The budget is up from $2.02 billion in 2020, an increase driven almost exclusively by the COVID-19 response.  Overall, the County delivers services through 10 departments with an estimated 5,163.6 full-time equivalent employee positions. 

Among the reductions this year are administrative cuts in Human Services, retirements and other personnel shifts in the Health Department, and the elimination of 19.5 positions in the Department of Community Justice due to state cuts.

Commissioners also approved a $100,000 amendment by Commissioner Lori Stegmann to expand the REACH program (Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health) to build capacity for food access and economic mobility for the Black community and other communities of color. They also approved her amendment to continue County efforts to complete the 2020 Census with an additional $135,000.

The Board also approved restoring $150,000 in youth workforce development, adding 54 Summerworks slots, brought forward by Commissioner Susheela Jayapal.

The Board attached accountability requirements to several areas, with budget notes that require action or public briefings on:

  • The Multnomah County Sheriff's Office’s training, including use of force data, de-escalation efforts, community policing and racial justice and treatment of people with a behavioral health issue or disability. 

  • The Department of Community Justice’s use of electronic monitoring, including demographic use, recidivism rates and other measurements of effectiveness, and alternatives to electronic monitoring. 

  • Jail labor expenses. 

  • Budget offers for FY 2022 and beyond, which must include metrics that demonstrate how programs affect racial equity.

  • Behavioral Health mobile crisis and outreach services. 

The Chair noted that more than 16,000 public comments were submitted on the budget, and the Board held several public hearings and town halls to hear from individuals directly. 

“In the best of times it’s challenging to weigh the demands of the largest safety net provider in Oregon while forging a new path towards social justice. But at the core of our work is our basic humanity,’’ said Commissioner Stegmann. “I am proud to be part of a board who has prioritized the needs of our most vulnerable, invested in tearing down the walls of institutional racism, and been at the forefront of criminal justice reform.  While at the same time, providing basic needs like housing, healthcare, and food to many who never imagined they’d need help.’’ 

“Each of the budgets I have worked to pass in my four years as commissioner has been centered on racial equity, our most at-risk community members and upstream investments. But never have these causes been more urgent than today,’’ said Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson. “This budget doesn’t go far enough — we all recognize that. But this work continues as we try to transform our society into one centered on racial and social justice.”

“There is no linear path or perfect process towards the necessary change. We’re going to have to try some things, and we will make mistakes along the way. But if the past few months have shown us anything, it is that change is possible,’’ said Commissioner Jayapal. “In responding to the COVID pandemic, we changed our lives and systems in ways we would never have thought possible. We did so in response to a viral pandemic. We can also do so in response to the pandemic that is racism. That underlying pandemic is much deeper, much more entrenched, and much more harmful than COVID; but with your continued advocacy, we can create change.’’

Commissioner Sharon Meieran highlighted the County’s progress in two areas: COVID-19 and public safety.

“Our commitment to this work is clear. I feel confident that we have built a budget that will be able to weather a full fiscal year of dealing with COVID-19 in some form,’’ Commissioner Meieran said. “And we must critically question whose safety our system has historically prioritized, and fundamentally rethink how we promote safety in our communities.”

Commissioner Meieran also thanked the Chair for maintaining $10.45 million for the Behavioral Health Resource Center downtown. “I can only imagine what an asset something like it would be right now — an additional place to house people during COVID; a trusted place for people to find information, resources, and supplies; a safe space to counter increasing isolation due to COVID; a support system to grieve and process the collective trauma of racialized violence.”

The Chair thanked the Board members, interim Chief Operating Officer Peggy Brey, Chief of Staff Kim Melton and staff, and Budget Director Christian Elkin and her team for their work on the budget — which was revised five times since February due to the shifting circumstances around revenue and spending.

“And lastly, thank you to the thousands of Multnomah County employees who have continued to support each other, and who have continued to serve the community,’’ Chair Kafoury said. “I’m inspired by your dedication, your resilience and your creativity.”