June 4: Multnomah County adopts a historic budget focused on pandemic response, recovery and a more equitable future

Dear friends and neighbors,

This year’s budget process was my seventh as County Chair and my 12th as a member of the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners.

And while you might think that means that I’ve seen almost everything that a county budgeting process could throw at you, this year’s process has been the most demanding that I’ve experienced. 

It’s also been, I think, the most satisfying.

The process of building Multnomah County’s FY 2022 budget felt similar to previous years in a lot of ways: multiple meetings with departments, multiple budget worksessions (18 to be exact), awe at the quick-working brains in our budgeting office, and countless spreadsheets.

But this year has also felt unique, and I believe that’s a product of the exceedingly unique year that we have endured together as a community. 

In the face of multiple, and sometimes intersecting, crises, Multnomah County has consistently stepped up and into spaces of need, doing everything we could to respond effectively and equitably. The County has led the public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic and has taken steps to dismantle systemic racism and confront racial injustices in our community and our own organization. We’ve continued to provide safety net services, helped Oregonians navigate a toxic air event, and held multiple elections. 

The breadth, depth and significance of the roles that the County plays in the lives of our community members have never been more visible, or felt more tangible, to the public. So it makes sense that this year, our community is holding our budget decisions to a higher standard than ever before.

Residents want to know that our budget process is transparent and meaningfully informed by their voices. And they’re demanding that we make budget decisions that go far beyond business-as-usual, to lean even further into life-changing work that this last year has brought into the spotlight.

This is exactly what our community should expect of us, and it’s what we should expect of ourselves.

Successfully adopting the County budget hasn’t been easy, but easy is never the point, or the goal, of our budgeting process. Rather, we engage in this process knowing that creating a budget requires asking hard questions, engaging in serious debate, navigating genuine disagreements and deliberating in good faith.

Of course, this year all of this took place against the backdrop of perhaps the most tumultuous chapter in our community’s history. It was a year that displayed the full extent of the County’s responsibilities, while also offering glimpses of the transformative potential we carry.

Despite the challenges we saw, we were also handed unprecedented opportunities, ranging from a set of once-in-a-generation ballot measures, federal stimulus resources to help us meet the increased needs in our community, and clear feedback from community members about the kind of government they want Multnomah County to be.

And it’s because of these extraordinary circumstances, and the willingness to engage in the hard work to meet them, that our FY 2022 budget turned out as it did.

At just over $2.8 billion, this budget is the largest that has ever been adopted by the Board of County Commissioners. 

It’s built to address Multnomah County’s most immediate priorities in the wake of a pandemic, while also laying the groundwork for community-altering initiatives that can close disparities and improve the lives of thousands of people. I’m proud that our work led us to an ambitious, forward-thinking budget that takes care to respond to the needs in front of us, build capacity to help community members recover from the pandemic and prepare the County for the work to come in the years ahead:

  • Although we are turning the corner, this pandemic is not yet over. So we invested more than $60 million to maintain our COVID-19 public health response, an investment that is headlined by more than $20 million dedicated to our ongoing vaccination and testing efforts through the Public Health Division and the County’s Community Health Centers. We’re also dedicating $20 million to support isolation, quarantine wraparound services, and the call center, and nearly $5 million for ongoing surveillance and case investigation.
  • To address the spike in community violence, this budget makes more than $4 million in investments to bolster the County’s ongoing work of violence prevention, intervention and healing by investing in programs and services designed to reduce risk factors, and help individuals, families and neighborhoods who have been impacted by violence build strength and resilience. These investments also include efforts that take a public health approach to violence, focusing on root causes, community strengths and partnerships, as well as recognizing the role of systemic racism in who violence impacts most. 
  • Having endured a year during which the community experienced collective trauma, loss and destabilization to an unprecedented degree, we also strengthened and expanded our core safety net services that intervene, prevent and respond to crises. For example, we’re increasing the number of culturally specific domestic violence case workers to meet the needs of people seeking help, and creating a Mobile Behavioral Health team that will be dedicated to serving a Black and African American justice-involved individuals leaving incarceration. Further, the brand new Multnomah Mother’s Trust Project will partner with approximately 100 Black, women-led families to provide immediate access to a monthly income to meet basic needs and aid them in developing connections to other community assets.
  • Thanks to the Supportive Housing Services measure that passed just over a year ago, we finally have the capacity to make unprecedented investments in the solutions we know end people’s homelessness. So in this budget, we allocated the first year of revenue from the ballot measure — $52 million in total — to support strategies that range from helping people into a permanent home through rent assistance and supportive services, to increased outreach, behavioral health and more emergency shelter beds. 

There are so many more investments in the adopted budget beyond what’s highlighted here — investments that I believe will make meaningful impacts in the lives of our community members. I hope you'll take the time to read my full budget message to learn more

Taken together, these choices put the County in strong position to respond to the needs of our community through our services and programs, but also through systemic changes and transformation. But this is only the start of our work. Multnomah County will continue to listen and improve, to support and empower our cultural communities, and to strive to become a local government and organization that our residents deserve.

Please stay safe and stay healthy,

Deborah Kafoury
Multnomah County Chair