Housing funds up, jail beds down: Multnomah $2.8B budget
The next Multnomah County budget includes major infusions of cash — from the feds, and three ballot measures — even as officials prepare to fight state cuts to jails and community justice.
County Chair Deborah Kafoury released the $2.81 billion spending plan for fiscal year 2022 on April 22, starting the clock on six weeks of presentations and public hearings before the document is finalized.
Kafoury's executive budget, which funds the county from July 2021 through June 2022, jumps spending 37% over last year's $2.06 billion budget. County coffers got a $78.8 million shot in the arm — the first of two such money transfers — from the American Rescue Plan, largely preventing further service cuts beyond the 2% across-the-board trim Kafoury OK'd as the virus spread last May.
"We thought we'd be in a lot worse financial shape," Kafoury said in an interview.
Indeed, the county's general fund — the largest pool of discretionary dollars that is funded by property, business and vehicle rental taxes — will be $723 million in 2022, a 4% increase. That happened even as personnel costs increased 4.3%, driven by yearly pay raises and public pension costs.
Reached for comment hours after she presented the county's Supportive Housing Services implementation plan to the Metro governing board, Kafoury described allocating the first $52 million installment of tax revenue as a top priority that will provide housing to 1,300 households currently living on the streets, and keep 900 families from becoming homeless.
Kafoury's plan will bolster employment at the Joint Office of Homeless Services from 38 positions to 70 positions. "To be able to deploy the over $2 billion that we're receiving over the next 10 years, we need to staff up the Joint Office," Kafoury said.
Elsewhere, $48.8 million is set aside to provide COVID emergency rent assistance to 3,500 families and individuals.
Human Services will get $82.7 million and 21 employees for its newly hatched Preschool and Early Learning Division that will administer the "Preschool for All" ballot measure, which is expected to bring in $96.3 million of revenue this fiscal year, though the children won't be at their desks until fiscal year 2023. The county library system is hiring six people to oversee a $387 million bond for capital projects, including a new flagship library in East County.
The budget shutters another dorm at Inverness Jail, dropping total jailhouse capacity from 1,117 beds to 1,039 beds — a "new low," according to a spokesman for Sheriff Mike Reese. Kafoury noted that the county actually opened up dorms to allow for social distancing behind bars, and pinned the blame for the closure on a $1 million drop in state funding.
"We're advocating for the state not to cut those funds," she said, "we're actively meeting with our legislators."
Specifically, a gap emerged several years ago between the local cost of providing jail and probation services and the amount of money provided by the state Legislature under a 1995 formula.
"This last session, that gap got even wider," said the county's Julie Sullivan-Springhetti.
The cuts also include the end of Turn Self In, a $250,000 program that allowed inmates to serve their sentence on weekends in order to hold down a job. The Department of Community Justice will reduce juvenile detention capacity from 64 beds to 56 beds.
District Attorney Mike Schmidt pushed for a new Conviction Integrity Unit that will be led by one senior deputy attorney at a cost of $260,000. Another quarter-million dollars will be used to expand the unit, which will investigate claims of innocence — and instances where police or prosecutorial misconduct is uncovered — post-conviction.
"(Schmidt) has got a lot of new ideas and we want to be supportive of this one in particular," Kafoury said.
Other line items include $7.3 million for design of the planned Behavioral Health Resource Center in downtown Portland and $23 million for work on the Burnside Bridge replacement project, though federal funds are still needed to complete the $800 million proposal.
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