Multnomah County will see major infusions of cash from federal aid, taxes and local bond measures as officials look to use the county's next budget to make progress on homelessness, behavioral health, gun violence and other issues.
County Chair Deborah Kafoury released the $3.3 billion spending plan for fiscal year 2023 on Thursday, May 5. The proposal marks the beginning of six weeks of public hearings, presentations and deliberations before the document is finalized.
Kafoury called last year's budget a "once in a lifetime" budget after the county received its first boost in cash from the federal American Rescue Plan and the first funds from Metro's 2020 Supportive Housing Services measure.
This year's executive budget, which funds the county from July 2022 through June 2023, is substantially larger, increasing spending by 18% over last year's $2.8 billion budget.
The county's last two budgets were created when officials anticipated steep drops in revenue due to the economic impacts of the pandemic. They also came on the heels of other recent budgets that included cuts to staff and services, and led to deferrals of capital projects and infrastructure maintenance, officials said in a statement about the proposed budget.
But this year's budget is different, Kafoury said in an interview shortly after presenting her proposed budget Thursday. It's the first time she did ask for constraints from county departments, allowing the county to rebuild from prior cuts and make new investments, she said.
"This is the most complex and yet most comprehensive budget that I have ever worked on," Kafoury said. "These dollars are going to make a huge difference right out of the gate."
One difference-maker in the budget is $88.9 million from the second round of funding from the American Rescue Plan, she said.
The county's general fund — the largest source of discretionary dollars funded by property, business and vehicle rental taxes — will be $792 million in 2023. That amounts to a nearly 10% increase from the 2022 adopted budget.
The county will receive a 21% increase in business income tax revenue — $137 million total — over last year's budget and a 5% increase in property tax revenue at $348 million.
"There's possibly no area that is more on the public's mind at this moment than homelessness," Kafoury said at the county's board meeting Thursday.
The county plans to spend $183 million across multiple departments on programs, services and personnel directed at housing, homelessness and behavioral health needs.
Of that, $107 million will come from supportive housing services funding. It will include $27.3 million to support more than 2,000 year-round shelter beds and outreach programs. Officials expect the 2,700 shelter beds to be available overall between COVID-19-related shelters and federal funding for other shelter programs.
Additionally, $75.9 million from the supportive housing services measure will go to housing placements, rent assistance and other support services. Another $22.8 million from the American Rescue Plan will support more rent assistance and eviction protection legal resources.
The county also plans to spend $15.5 million on programs that aim to assist homeless people's behavioral health needs.
The Joint Office of Homeless Services' budget will increase by nearly 59% to $255 million. Much of that increase comes from supportive housing services funding. Full-time staff in the department will increase by 20 for a total of 92.
Kafoury highlighted that $1 million in supportive housing services funding will go toward a new pilot program called Frequent Utilizer System Engagement. The program draws on data collected between 2018 and 2020 and will provide permanent supportive housing for up to 50 people identified as "frequent users" of homeless, health care and public safety systems.
With community members continuing to reel from record-breaking levels of gun violence, the county plans to continue existing programs and support new ones aimed at gun violence intervention.
The county will spend $1.2 million to expand the Habilitation, Empowerment, Accountability and Therapy program to 18 to 30-year-olds. The program is tailored to men of color involved in and leaving the criminal legal system.
Also, the county will spend $300,000 on a new gun violence interruption pilot program. The program will seek to economically stabilize people on supervision for acts of gun violence with stipends, hoping to steer them away from such acts.
The budget also contains funding to address gun violence on the law enforcement side.
The Multnomah County Sheriff's Office will receive nearly $825,000 in American Rescue Plan dollars to support a detective focused on gun violence investigations, two deputies focused on dispossessing people of firearms and three deputies assigned to the Close Street Supervision program.
Last year, the budget included American Rescue Plan funding to add four new deputy district attorneys and two investigators focused on gun violence cases. The proposed budget continues funding for those positions using a combination of general fund and American Rescue Plan resources.
The region's Local Public Safety Coordinating Council will create a new position to coordinate gun violence intervention efforts with funding from the county.
Overall, the Sheriff's Office will receive a 6.5% increase in funding over last year's budget, which includes 11 new full-time positions for a total of 808 positions.
The budget provides for 1,117 beds at the county's jails. Last year's budget included a cut from that number — to 1,039 jail beds — due to an expected reduction in state funding. But the housing dorm that was expected to be closed in the jail stayed open after a revision to state funding, according to the Sheriff's Office's proposed budget. The number of jail beds currently being used is roughly 70% of capacity due to social distancing efforts and efforts to divert people out of incarceration.
Other line items include $1.2 million in general fund dollars to provide 1,000 portable air conditioning units and 8,000 to 10,000 cooling kits for people vulnerable to extreme heat events, particularly in East County.
Additionally, the budget includes $1.35 million in general fund resources for a continuation of the Multnomah Mothers' Trust Project. The project partners with about 100 Black, woman-headed households with children and provides an unconditional monthly basic income. It will be the first full year of implementation of the project.
The county also plans to fund three new elections division positions and four new staff auditors in the Multnomah County Auditor's Office.
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