Board seeks public input on Fiscal Year 2023 Budget

May 13, 2022
Multnomah County residents are invited to offer input on the Chair’s Proposed Fiscal Year 2023 Budget in three upcoming virtual public hearings. 

The hearings — scheduled May 18, May 25, and June 1 — are one of the key steps before the Board of Commissioners completes deliberations on the document and formally adopts the budget. The public is encouraged to sign up to testify virtually or submit written comments or suggestions about the County’s proposed spending plan.. 

This year’s $3.3 billion budget marks the first time since 2016 that Multnomah County departments faced no staff or service  reductions. Compared to FY 2022, this year’s budget has grown by $467 million—a 16.7% increase. 

Budget Director Christian Elkin speaks to the Board.

“We’re seeing significant increases in our funding year over year,” said Christian Elkin, the County’s Budget Director, “which is very exciting for our community.”

This year’s budget includes a number of milestones. It’s the second year of three-voter approved initiatives in supportive housing services, the Library, and Preschool for All. It’s also the second year of American Rescue Plan investments for COVID response and recovery. 

The budget also features a significant capital project to address the crisis on the street, the new Behavioral Health Resource Center, scheduled to open in Fall 2022. The facility will offer respite for people with mental illness and substance use disorders who are experiencing homelessness downtown.

Mapping out the budget process

The budget process officially kicks off each year in November, when the County Economist presents the General Fund forecast, which determines how much funding is available. From that point forward, departments begin budget planning. 

In February, departments submit a “requested” budget to the Chair for consideration. The Chair then develops and releases her own proposed budget. That launches six weeks of work sessions and public hearings to solicit feedback on the budget. That feedback is used to propose amendments before adopting the final budget, this year on June 16.. 

“This is such a great set-up for what we are going to get into the next six weeks,” Commissioner Jayapal said. 

Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson added she’s “looking forward to the next six weeks when we will be digging into this, and I appreciate all the work helping us consider these things.”

Budgeting with an equity lens

This year, more than 140 staff received training on how to apply the County’s Equity and Empowerment Lens to the budgeting process. The County also involved equity managers to help with budget decisions. 

Joy Fowler, who directs the Office of Diversity and Equity, said it’s imperative that the County prepares the budget with equity impacts in mind. Budget managers are expected to show how using equity helped them reach a decision about programs and services.

“It’s a demonstration of us operationalizing our values directly into County programs, services, and systems,” Fowler said. 

The equity and empowerment lens is a tool that helps analyze the root causes of racial disparities. It also helps decision makers identify and support what works and shift the way they make decisions. The lens is used at the program level and department level for budgeting purposes. 

For instance, Jacob Mestman, a quality improvement expert, helped guide the County’s Aging, Disability & Veterans’ Services Division on applying equity in their proposed $100 million budget. Through the process, the team was able to think through its investments in culturally-specific services and racial justice.

In one instance, Mestman highlighted intentional efforts to measure people of color employed in the division. In recent years, that number has increased from 24% in Fiscal Year 2024 to 42% in the current year. This year, 60% of promotions went to employees of color.

“That co-creation process was, I felt, very empowering for our team,” Mestman said. “And so in doing that, we  were able to think through what our investment is in culturally specific services in racial justice and racial equity work.”

Making budget decisions with community input

“Budgets are moral documents, and numbers on a report aren’t just money: they are people and are lives,” said Shani Harris-Blackwell, a member of the Community Budget Advisory Committee. 

Dozens of community volunteers played a critical role in the budget process as members of the County’s Community Budget Advisory Committees. The groups use an equity-driven approach to provide input that helps shape the County’s budget decisions. 

The Community Budget Advisory Committee, called the CBAC, focused on priorities including improving housing stability and security; investing in behavioral healthcare; emphasizing culturally-specific programs; reducing community violence; and continuing the County’s history of transparent and accountable elections.

“I have always appreciated your insight and your wisdom,” Commissioner Sharon Meieran told Harris-Blackwell. “Today, you just brought that all to the forefront and so I am just deeply appreciative of you and your work of the central CBAC.” 

Chair Deborah Kafoury said she was “struck by how much the Central CBAC’s values align with what we proposed,” adding that it “bodes well for our community as we go forward.”

The group’s full recommendations can be viewed online.