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Mayor Ted Wheeler is pressed by Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek to share federal COVID-19 funds with the county.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Many businesses remain closed due to the pandemic. Multnomah County has not applied to reopen the economy.Mayor Ted Wheeler is under pressure to share more of Portland's federal emergency COVID-19 money with Multnomah County.

The city has received $114 million in federal stimulus funds compared to $28 million for the county. But in Oregon, counties — not cities — operate the frontline public health systems.

Late Friday, May 15, Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury said the county does not yet have enough money to meet the requirements set by Oregon Gov. Kate Brown to reopen the economy.

"We have estimated that, in order to fulfill what the criteria that the governor's prerequisites have set out for us, it's going to cost us about $75 million for the next year … frankly, we don't have the money now," Kafoury told the Portland Business Alliance on Friday, noting that the county is in negotiations with the state and city for the money it needs.

Kafoury has not yet said when the county will apply to the state for Phase 1 permission to begin reopening its economy.

Washington and Clackamas counties have not yet applied for permission to reopen, either.

"If our counties aren't open, then the state really isn't open. We are the economic engine of this state. And it's crucial if we're going to get people back to work and we're going to keep people safe, that we have the ability to do that and that we have the dollars that we need," Kafoury told the PBA before retweeting a Portland Tribune story about the teleconference the next day.

Earlier Friday, Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek said the city should combine its federal funds with the county's. She spoke during a meeting of the legislative Emergency Board that makes spending decisions between session. Kotek said that if the county does not have enough money to address the crisis, "they will not get to recovering in a way that will help individuals with the economic support they need," The Oregonian/OregonLive reported.

Wheeler's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Oregon Legislature is preparing to meet in special session as early as next month at the State Capitol in Salem to deal with an estimated $3 billion gap in the state budget due to the financial fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. The quarterly revenue forecast, which will reveal the state's economic plight, is set for Wednesday May 20.

The Portland City Council also is scheduled to consider two major money matters on Wednesday, May 20. The first is a resolution to centralize, guide and coordinate COVID-19 efforts that bolster progress towards the city's long-term recovery goals. The second is approval of Mayor Ted Wheeler's proposed budget for the fiscal year that starts on July 1, 2020. It needs to close a $75 million shortfall caused by revenue declines created by the response to the pandemic.

You can read a Portland Tribune story on the PBA teleconference here.


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