Equity, crisis response and children top Multnomah County’s 2019 budget priorities

May 31, 2018

The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners at its May 31 meeting

The Multnomah County Board on Thursday unanimously approved a $2 billion budget for 2019, maintaining the vast majority of county services from conducting elections to providing health care, from operating the jails and animal services, to maintaining the bridges and roads.

The budget includes $21.5 million for critical infrastructure including the new Central Courthouse and health facilities. It fully funds the County’s share of the Joint Office of Homeless Services with $30.9 million, including $600,000 for new longer-term rent assistance vouchers and support services to help move more families from shelter to permanent housing.

The spending package also includes $700,000 in workforce equity, and funding for additional emergency planning, syringe disposal boxes, legal support for immigrants and refugees, and maintaining two SUN school sites and adding two other new ones.

“The values that bind us together show through this budget, and I believe the residents of Multnomah County will see and feel the impact,’’ said Chair Deborah Kafoury.

The Chair had asked every department to take a 2 percent cut, and the final budget tally also includes $5.7 million in cuts or cost shifts, including some administrative and back office positions. Her fellow commissioners also brought forward 11 amendments after three community-centered public hearings and 15 public work sessions.

Commissioner Lori Stegmann said she was especially moved by the compelling testimony of so many residents during those hearings.

“While many advocated for particular programs, many came just to say thank you. Hearing first-hand how programs administered by the County truly made a difference in the lives of our residents reminded me of why I became a county commissioner,’’ Commissioner Stegmann said.

Among the amendments brought forward by Board members:

Commissioner Vega Pederson said she had wanted to focus on some of Multnomah County's core issue areas: protecting our immigrant community, investing in our youth, continuing to address our housing crisis, and getting people the skills they need to succeed. “I'm proud that we've done just that.”

Commissioner Meieran said the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant and anti-refugee rhetoric and actions to undermine DACA, the ramped up ICE activity, reports of increased hate crimes and intimidation, and “horrendous accounts of violence and family separation at our borders have left many in our community feeling more fearful and vulnerable than ever before.”

“I feel more strongly than ever about our power at the local level to do the right thing and make sound policy decisions — whether in response to, or in spite of, what is happening at the federal level,’’ Commissioner Meieran said.

Commissioner Smith, who completed her eighth and final budget this year because of term limits, said this budget reflects “the safety net government that we are.”

She thanked the Chair and Board for creating a policy direction and strategy for equity, inclusion, harm reduction and public safety in the County’s own recruitment, hiring, discipline and compensation practices. The Board’s policy direction has been inclusive of all county departments, and departments have added equity management positions to direct practices and strategies.

“If there is one day I will remember, it was on Sept. 14 when we sat here and listened to employees talk about experiences they’ve had in departments,” Commissioner Smith said. “We heard them loud and clear, and the Chair has identified opportunities for us to course correct, and I’m really proud of that.’’

Chair Kafoury said the budget provides a detailed roadmap for the coming year — a course that shows the community is strong moving ahead.

“We face challenges, but none are larger than our commitment to making this place better, none are larger than our care for one another’s children or our belief that everyone matters,” Chair Kafoury said.

You can read the 2019 budget documents here.