07-31-2021  6:59 pm   •   PDX and SEA Weather
Multnomah County Board of Commissioners
By The Skanner News | The Skanner News
Published: 03 June 2021

After a year of lockdown and loss, the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners today approved a $2.82 billion budget, investing record amounts into the COVID-19 response and recovery and launching consequential efforts to end people’s homelessness and elevate libraries and early childhood education.

The 2022 budget includes an ambitious spending plan for the County’s first share of new American Rescue Plan federal recovery funds — $78.9 million — to provide recovery services ranging from eviction prevention to wraparound services to families to new strategies to reduce gun violence.

“This budget delivers hope,” Chair Deborah Kafoury said.

“It propels us beyond the COVID-19 crisis into a future that is healthier, more equitable and safer. It centers the County’s efforts in the communities we serve. And it builds a stable foundation for education, library services and housing efforts today that will pay forward for generations.”

Between the American Rescue Plan funds and three voter-approved ballot measures, the budget — which funds services from July 1, 2021, through June 30, 2022 — represents a 37 percent increase in community investments over 2021. 

Board approves investments in Public Health and violence prevention

The most dramatic budget decisions are based on the County’s efforts to reduce harm and build resilience in the face of COVID-19, a rise in community violence and other crises. The budget:

  • Invests more than $60 million to maintain the County’s comprehensive COVID-19 public health response. This includes more than $20 million for ongoing vaccination and testing efforts through the Public Health Division and the County’s Community Health Centers that are geared toward culturally specific and other underserved communities. Supporting that work is essential to ensuring that reopening and recovery are equitable for everyone in Multnomah County. Another $20 million is dedicated to support isolation, quarantine wraparound services, and the call center, and nearly $5 million for ongoing surveillance and case investigation. 
  • Directs $4 million across departments to reduce community violence with programs and services designed to reduce risk factors, and support individuals, families and neighborhoods who have been impacted and to strengthen them. This public health approach includes funding a wraparound model using community health workers in community-based organizations; a new team of clinicians and peers to provide services for gang-impacted youth and families; and care-benefit coordination to better connect Black and African American individuals on supervision with the Department of Community Justice to addiction services.
  • Commits to essential capital infrastructure projects, including $23.5 million toward the next phase of the Earthquake Ready Burnside Bridge project and an additional $8 million for the County’s new Behavioral Health Resource Center, which will help people experiencing chronic homelessness in the downtown core.
  • Champions health equity by fully funding the County’s share of the federally supported Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) program; the Healthy Birth Initiative program, which works to improve birth outcomes and the health of Black families; and the Community Partnerships and Capacity Building team, which trains culturally specific community health workers in community-based organizations.
  • Reinforces behavioral health and other safety net services, including the Crisis Assessment and Treatment Center, urgent walk-in clinics and school-based mental health programs, as well as Schools Uniting Neighborhood (SUN) Community Schools programs.
  • Responds to community by increasing the number of culturally specific domestic violence case workers; creating a Mobile Behavioral Health team dedicated to serving Black and African American individuals leaving incarceration; and establishing a Multnomah Mother’s Trust Project that will partner with about 100 Black, women-led families to provide immediate access to a monthly income to meet basic needs and help them connect to other community services.

“We learned from the COVID-19 crisis that the County can find solutions in partnership with our community and make a real difference,” Chair Kafoury said.

Budget puts voter-approved ballot measures into effect

Voters in 2020 overwhelmingly approved historic investments in early childhood education, the County’s libraries and work to end people’s homelessness. This year’s adopted budget reveals the County’s blueprints for carrying out each of those initiatives.

In May 2020, Metro voters 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 budget includes at least $52 million of new programming in the Joint Office of Homeless Services, which will partner with other County departments and community providers to provide additional rent assistance, behavioral health and addiction services, street outreach, and shelter capacity, including alternative models like motels and villages.

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 along with the Health Department and County Management, includes $34.1 million of new investments to build the program so children can begin filling slots as promised in the fall of 2022.

In November 2020, Multnomah County voters also approved a bond measure to raise $387 million to transform the Library, building an East County flagship library, renovating seven library branches and building a new, more efficient operations center.

“Voters told us with no uncertainty that they want a better future for our kids, our community and our most vulnerable neighbors,” Chair Kafoury said. “And the County will be effective, transparent and accountable in carrying out their wishes.”

Board amendments expand culturally specific efforts, violence prevention, air quality 

The Budget is Chair Kafoury’s seventh as Chair and 12th as a Board member. It also reflects the Chair’s work with Commissioners Sharon Meieran, Susheela Jayapal, Jessica Vega Pederson and Lori Stegmann, who advocated for amendments to the Chair’s first draft of a spending plan, released in late April. After more than five weeks of public discussion, two public hearings and 18 public work sessions around the Chair’s Executive Budget, the Board approved amendments adding:

  • $1.5 million to help culturally specific organizations offset capital expenditures for projects designed to build their capacity to serve communities most affected by the pandemic.
  • $211,000 to expand the Legal Services Day and to adapt the program to year-round and virtual program
  • $300,000 for a gun violence prevention incubator pilot
  • $160,000 for Environmental Health to increase air quality and wood smoke curtailment
  • $250,000 for Community-based Services for Aging Adults Living with or Affected by HIV

Board’s budget notes call for public briefings to increase accountability

As part of the process, the Board members made several budget notes:

  • Commissioners Lori Stegmann and Susheela Jayapal requested briefings from the Sheriff's Office regarding implementation of the Trimet Transit Police Intergovernmental Agreement.
  • Commissioner Jayapal requests creates a workgroup to focus on Jail Labor practices.
  • Commissioner Sharon Meieran requests a briefing about the implementation of the Safe Rest Villages in partnership with the City of Portland.
  • Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson requests an analysis from the Local Public Safety Coordinating Council on the impact of the elimination of the Turn Self In Program.
  • Commissioners Meieran and Vega Pederson request a briefing on new state or federal funding for behavioral health, housing and homelessness services that is received by the County. It will include identifying funding that could support wrap around services at the Safe Rest Villages.

The Board approved the 2022 Multnomah County budget unanimously. 

“This budget supports the work of thousands of County employees and our partners who serve our community everyday,’’ Chair Kafoury said. “I want to thank all the community members who weighed in, the Board and all the County staff who contributed to its development, especially Chief of Staff Kimberly Melton, Budget Director Christian Elkin and Chief Financial Officer Eric Arellano,’’ Chair Kafoury said. “We are ready and looking forward to putting these dollars to work.”

Commissioner Susheela Jayapal said, “I can’t help but look back a year and remember that at this time last year we really had very little idea of what lay ahead. We didn’t know how long the pandemic would last, we didn’t know how many lives it ultimately and tragically would take, and we didn’t know the full extent of the impact it would have on the residents of Multnomah County. We didn’t know how the racial justice movement that sprang up after George Floyd’s murder would unfold. We didn’t know which ballot measures would pass in November; and we didn’t know who would be sworn in as president in January of 2021.

"It seems fitting that the unprecedented year behind us has led to an unprecedented budget for the year ahead of us.”

Full texts of the individual Board members’ remarks are online here.

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