Elected officials provide answers to questions from North Clackamas Chamber of Commerce members at luncheon

A large crowd more than 200 people gathered last month to hear what Clackamas County Board of Commissioners think about the effect of county programs on residents.

Sponsored by the North Clackamas Chamber of Commerce and the Clackamas County Business Alliance, the five commissioners discussed their top five-year priorities during the Feb. 26 event. They talked about the Veterans Village and the county's housing crisis, tax impacts, the economy, the corona virus, diversity and inclusion, climate and infrastructure and transportation among other topics.

The five commissioners opened with explanations of their five-year plan entitled Performance Clackamas and each listed their priorities. Jim Bernard emphasized the county needs a new courthouse, saying the one built in the 1930s is not big enough and soon may fall apart or into the Willamette River. Martha Schrader wants to see a vibrant economy and adequately trained employees. Paul Savas is looking to see infrastructure and transportation come up to par as well as 10,000 homes and 10,000 jobs.

COURTESY PHOTO - Clackamas Fire Chief Fred Charlton (right) moderates a Feb. 26 State of the County event with the five county commissioners.Ken Humbertson wants to see an action plan in process toward the county being carbon free in 2050 as well high-speed internet for all residents and family-wage jobs. It's important to focus on ensuring safety and security, reducing domestic violence and chronic homelessness, said Sonya Fischer.

One of the more important subjects dealt with county budget cuts. All five of them noted they are proactively looking toward the budget's future. "Our tax revenue is not growing at the same pace as our expenses," said Bernard.

Schrader added, "We've been doing our budgets the same way as we did in 1970. Things have changed. We're having our staff do an internal analysis for the accurate steps we need to take; moving forward to do bigger and better with the budget. We're changing our practices because its time to remedy our $1 billion enterprise. But it would be counterproductive to cut it all at once."

The current county hiring freeze is saving lots of money, added Bernard. The only hiring is for employees that the county can't do without.

Tax fatigue

During a question about tax impacts, they all appear worried about tax fatigue. "Tax fatigue is a real issue," said Schrader.

"The cumulative effect of all the taxes added up are that wages aren't going up. But taxes are increasing," said Savas.

"The Board of Commissioners doesn't make tax decisions, because we are not legislators," Bernard said. "Bur we are a voice in helping relay the message that [our] expenses are exceeding [our] revenues."

Funding should be prioritized, and the state should stay away from property tax increases because its pushing people out, added Savas.

Humbertson added it's important to pay employees wages they can live on, but again he mentioned that wages haven't kept up with the cost of living and this is important, "…we need to work on child care and homelessness along with family-wage jobs, not just minimum-wage jobs."

Other issues are just as important, said Bernard. These include preventing homelessness, equity, climate action plans, healthy lifestyles, family stability, investing where it does the most good and a sustainable budget.

Veterans Village, homelessness

The program to get veterans housed is a success, according to the commissioners. Some 19 vets have come through the shelters and are now in permanent housing, according to Savas. They also are adding services and programs. In fact, there are people teaching the vets how to cook while others are providing meals.

Other questions centered on the corona virus and what effects it may have on Clackamas County. Schrader said she's keeping on top of the situation by following public health and CDC alerts. It could explode into a pandemic, she said, but right now they are asking people to do extensive hand washing and asking people who are sick to stay home. Public health officials for Clackamas, Washington and Multnomah counties are poised to respond, she said.

The subject of homelessness was scattered throughout their answers. All are looking for methods that will get people off the streets and sidewalks and into shelters and permanent homes. They said that a county with a vibrant and healthy economy is more likely to have family wages rather than a $15-an-hour minimum wage.

For years Clackamas County hasn't had the funds to fix roads. Starting this year a vehicle registration fees is annually charging $30 per car and $15 for motorcycles.

Commissioners say the new fee will provide the county and its residents with sufficient funding to fix roads, especially some of the roads that are owned by the county but within various cities. It also will provide funds for cities to help keep their own roads in prime condition. County officials say they have begun to prioritize roads and highways that need the most help for starters.

Carol Rosen
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