A Message from Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury
May 5, 2022
The 2023 Multnomah County Executive Budget is the third budget that was created under the shadow of a generational crisis that has changed our world, our communities, our methods of work, and ourselves.
The shape of the crisis we face, however, has changed from year to year, budget to budget. The County undertook the work of developing this budget with a new phase of the pandemic on the horizon. Thanks to a relatively high vaccination rate across the community, we have seemingly — hopefully — moved beyond the worst of the public health emergency.
But even as the deadly threat posed by the virus recedes, if that is the case, our community still faces numerous ongoing challenges that have emerged or been exacerbated by the disruptions, instability and trauma caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. These are the spaces in which Multnomah County must continue to do its work.
The last two budget cycles under the pandemic, like with every budget I’ve overseen, required us to work within deep financial constraints. Two years ago, amid a quickly evolving public health emergency, we balanced a $58 million General Fund deficit, adopting a County budget that preserved key services and jobs in a volatile economic climate. Critically, we invested nearly $100 million into a COVID-19 response that met the most urgent needs of our community members, especially those from Black, Indigenous and other communities of color we knew would be harmed disproportionately by the virus.
Last year, with the pandemic dragging on and facing a $2.5 million deficit, we used the lessons we’d gained from the preceding year to craft an FY 2022 budget that would sustain our response to COVID-19. We strengthened our public health infrastructure and its programs, while maintaining or expanding the County’s social services that we saw our community need more than ever before. We also began to lay the groundwork for the implementation of several historic ballot measures. All of this resulted in the largest budget in the history of Multnomah County.
Our financial situations during the pandemic would have been even more dire were it not for federal lifelines offered to us through the 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and the 2021 American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act. Thankfully, those federal stimulus programs have been a boon for our ability to respond to, and plan for our recovery from, the pandemic.
The County Budget Office’s fiscal projections typically inform the extent of the constraint we must exercise as we build the budget. For the FY 2023 budget, however, the Budget Office offered welcome, encouraging news. Instead of a structural deficit, Multnomah County is entering the new fiscal year with the financial flexibility to add ongoing programs, thanks to a steadily recovering economy and, most notably, collections from the Business Income Tax (BIT).
I led the passage of the first BIT rate increase in decades — passed in 2020 mere weeks before the pandemic arrived in our community — with the aim of ending the County’s perpetual structural deficits in the face of growing costs to operate, as well as the growing need for Multnomah County’s services. That change to the BIT brings our budgeting approach into a new era, with revenues expected to grow for the next five years, starting with FY 2023.
This meant that, for the first time in my tenure as Chair, I did not ask for a constraint from County departments and offices during the budget creation process. With this new General Fund surplus, Multnomah County can begin planning for the stabilization of our services and make critical, new investments. And with the second tranche of federal American Rescue Plan funding, we can concurrently make additional strategic investments that maximize the impact of these one-time resources.
Grounded in this new position of fiscal stability, the 2023 Executive Budget leverages the experiences of the last two years. We are doing that by maintaining the County’s core safety net services that have been critical for the stability and well-being of those we serve, and expanding effective strategies to meet areas of increasing need.
Additionally, many of the new programs and approaches that we stood up in our race to respond to COVID-related challenges demonstrated positive, equitable outcomes, so this budget also invests in continuing those newfound lessons and practices into the future.
And while Multnomah County must continue to show up for people in their hardest and most vulnerable moments, it’s imperative that we do even more. A cascade of climate and economic crises that occurred the last two years exposed and reminded us that the normal we had been living under has always been rife with inequities and injustices. The disparities that Multnomah County works to close and the harms we seek to address existed long before the pandemic, and we are committed to offering solutions that will outlast it.
So the 2023 Executive Budget is designed to look and plan beyond the needs immediately in front of us, in order to make greater strides toward our vision of community transformation. Our investments leverage our resources to help move and empower the people we serve from a space of crisis and survival, to a place of healing, opportunity and thriving.