May 7, 2015

Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury released her proposed 2016 budget this week, with new investments in affordable housing, services for children, communities of color, and a new courthouse.

“This budget provides the roadmap and the means to accomplish our vision. It expresses our values, our goals and, if we’ve done our jobs right, the needs and desires of the community,” she said during the Thursday, May 7, board meeting.

 “We are in better financial shape this year than we have been in many years. That gives us the opportunity, and the responsibility, to make important, targeted investments.”

The proposed budget, Chair Kafoury’s first in the position as the county’s chief executive, includes $2 million in ongoing funding to help families and veterans secure permanent housing, and $5 million for a housing development fund to increase the number of affordable units in the county.

“Last year, 3,000 kids spent some portion of their nights without a bed of their own,” Chair Kafoury said. “Last night, more than 1,800 people slept on our sidewalks. I will not continue to let this happen.”

Her budget includes new money for programs to serve at-risk and low-income youth. It would expand the Schools Uniting Neighborhoods program to four additional schools in Parkrose, Gresham and Reynolds school districts, the early kindergarten transition program and the school attendance initiative.

“I’m also proposing that we invest in more mental health services in our schools,” she said. “Right now, only one-in-four schools in our county has a dedicated mental health consultant.”

One of those is Oliver Elementary School, where nearly 90 percent of kids live in poverty. Even with the mental health services, the administration struggles to serve children who come to class with undiagnosed or untreated behavioral, emotional and learning disorders.

“Many more would benefit from a trained mental health therapist to cope with trauma they may have experienced at home or in their neighborhoods,” she said.

The challenge of too much need and too few resources is exacerbated for those kids who speak a language other than English.

“That’s why I’m working with school districts to expand culturally-specific mental health services in schools,” she said.

Finally, Chair Kafoury said after years of cutting prevention programs that gave at-risk youth an alternative to gangs and crime, she wants to reinvest.

“The Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center, or POIC, has begun doing something we should all get behind. They’re staff is reaching kids the very first time they get in trouble,” she said. “That’s why I’m including a Juvenile Justice Diversion Pilot in my proposed budget.”

She said the county hasn’t done enough to reduce the racial and ethnic disparities. Right now, people of color are more likely to land in jail, fall victim to crime, struggle with unemployment or suffer for preventable illness.

“Several months ago, we published a report that highlights the extent to which our communities of color face right rates of unemployment, poverty and sickness,” she said. “I vowed to make changes and my proposed budget includes new investments to narrow that divide.”

It includes $1 million for culturally specific health services in five underserved communities, an additional $140,000 to train community health workers who serve refugee clients and $1 million for a center to provide specialty behavioral care to serve residents in crisis.

Despite a strong fiscal forecast, Chair Kafoury said she is also preparing for the potential of leaner years ahead.

“I am mindful of past years when we’ve had to make painful cuts to vital programs,” she said. “I haven’t forgotten those lessons which is why this proposed budget has some important safeguards for the future.”

Chair Kafoury said she would also dedicate $28 million for the courthouse project. “Every dollar we spend here is one less dollar we have to finance later,” she said.

Public hearings are scheduled for 6 p.m. to  8 p.m. on:

May 13: Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization, 10301 N.E. Glisan St., Portland

May 27:  East County Building, Sharron Kelley Rooms, 600 N.E. 8th St., Gresham

June 10: Multnomah Building board room, 501 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd., Portland