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Multnomah County's proposal for fighting COVID-19 is presented during a Tuesday work session

PMG FILE PHOTO - Many businesses in Portland remain closed as Multnomah County looks for more money to begin reopening the economy.The Portland City Council on Tuesday questioned Multnomah County's plan to spend $40 million per year to rent 495 motel rooms to fight the spread of COVID-19 in the homeless community.

"Wow, that's extraordinary high," said Commissioner Chloe Eudaly after quickly calculating the cost at $6,650 per room per month.

Mayor Ted Wheeler and Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty also agreed the cost was unreasonably high, especially considering the rooms eventually will be used by visitors again when the economy recovers. Wheeler suggested the money would be better spent to buy the now-closed Concordia University in Northeast Portland.

The plan was presented by Marc Jolin, director of the city-county Joint Office of Homeless Services, during a May 25 work session on how to spend the $114 million in emergency federal funds the city has received from the federal government. Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury said Thursday, May 21, that the county needs $45 million more to begin reopening the economy. She said the money would be spent on contact tracing, virus testing and additional sheltering capacity, but did not itemize the costs.

The council agreed to receive individual briefings from Jolin before making any final spending decisions. The tracing and testing costs were estimated at $31 million per year.

Multnomah County has received only $28 million in emergency federal funds. Kafoury has repeatedly said Portland and the state of Oregon needs to help the county pay for the additional costs of fighting the pandemic.

The work session ended with the council agreeing that a small team of bureau heads prepare spending recommendations for future consideration.

You can find a previous Portland Tribune story on the issue here.


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