Dozens of people gave public testimony Wednesday, May 17, at the second of three public hearings held on Multnomah County's proposed fiscal year 2024 budget.
The hearing was hosted in the heart of east Multnomah County, at Youth Organized and United to Help (Y.O.U.TH), a nonprofit working to empower youth, family and educators to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline. Wednesday’s event was also the first fully in-person public budget hearing since 2019.
Twenty people signed up to share their thoughts on topics ranging from funding for SUN Schools to disability benefits to support for small businesses in North and Northeast Portland’s Soul District.
The County also received 78 pieces of written testimony on several issues, including funding for services that aid young people experiencing sex trafficking or exploitation, the phasing out of gas-powered leaf blowers countywide, and the preservation of funding for the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office River Patrol program.
“Multnomah County’s budget and priorities are not built in silos; they’re built with partners,” said Chair Jessica Vega Pederson, who opened Wednesday’s meeting. “The budget is built on being a more inclusive, thoughtful partner with the community. The investments are designed to help regional recovery from the pandemic and to ensure the futures that everyone in Multnomah County deserves.”
The Board of County Commissioners, which is also holding several public worksessions with County departments and offices, is scheduled to adopt a final budget on June 8.
SUN Schools and Housing Wages for Frontline Workers
More than a dozen attendees stood up together as speakers advocated for an amendment to the County budget for the Schools Uniting Neighborhoods (SUN) Family Resource Navigator Program.
Tina Moe, Woodland Elementary SUN site manager and a Latino Network employee, voiced concerns about proposed cuts to navigator positions. These positions, she said, have contributed to “significant improvements in attendance, family engagement and a renewed sense of hope.”
“This position has been critical in helping families navigate complex systems such as food, housing and education,” she continued. “As someone who has seen the power this position provides, please support funding this position at least for another year.”
Andy Nelson, executive director of Impact NW, also testified in support of the program.
“Our mission is to prevent homelessness, and we’ve reached so many families through this program, he said. “If you have discretionary dollars, please find a way to bring that program back.”
Nelson also complimented the proposed budget’s funding of cost of living adjustments for frontline workers, calling it “meaningful.”
“The majority of our frontline workers make below the housing wage,” he said. “I’d ask for two things: If we have discretionary dollars, to make them available to service providers and shore up those on the front lines of the housing crisis. And flexibility to really work with service providers on outcomes and outputs that we’re asked to produce. These contracts can be sustainable for our frontline workers.”
Small Business in North and Northeast Portland’s Soul District
In her remarks, Smith thanked Board members for their support during the once-in-a-century pandemic that, other speakers said, “wreaked havoc” on businesses and families, particularly in communities of color.
“I think, with your help, it helped us overcome,” Smith said. Yet, she said, in the wake of the pandemic, Soul District members are trying to thrive, not just survive.
“They need resources — $3 to $5 million to go back into businesses of color,” she said, “to help them with capital, grants and technical assistance.”
Edward Stevens, who launched Overnight Pressure Washing Services in 2019, joined others requesting support to help their businesses grow. “We’re here to ask that you look out for us. I’m a BIPOC member, a member of the Soul District and this community, and I’m a grandfather. If I’m still struggling by the time they walk out of college — what am I working for?”
Advocating for the New Day program
New Avenues for Youth’s New Day program serves young people 12 to 25 years old who are experiencing sex trafficking or exploitation, trading sex, or are at risk. It offers mentoring and advocacy, employment and educational support, LGBTQIA2s+ services, and additional resources.
The Portland Police Bureau invested $310,000 in the New Day Collaborative in FY 2022, which ran from July 2021 through June 2022. The County had expected this funding to continue in FY 2023. But because the police bureau ultimately did not allocate the expected dollars, Multnomah County backfilled the funding with one-time-only American Rescue Plan funds in the FY 2023 budget. In FY 2024, the County has fewer remaining federal pandemic funds to allocate.
Community-based organizations, including Raphael House of Portland, Self-Enhancement, Inc., and New Avenues, advocated for an amendment to protect the $310,000 budget allocation for New Day.
“Cutting these programs will directly impact 200 youth each year accessing New Day services,” Raphael House Executive Director Emmy Ritter said in written testimony, “as well as take away from the essential prevention efforts we have been establishing in our local school districts and community centers.”
Disability Benefits Team
“We’re in an all-hands-on-deck mode in our effort to assist people experiencing homelessness,” said Calvin.
“There are hundreds of people who should apply for disability benefits, but so many are unstable and experiencing severe mental illness,” Calvin said. “There’s a great need for our help. We are subject matter experts in the application process and we want to see expansion in the services the County funds already.”
Other speakers described the long, complicated process to compile and complete paperwork for Social Security applications, from medical treatment records to bank records, birth certificates, work history records and more.
“These requirements are particularly onerous for clients who don’t even have an address,” said Bianca Pick, also with ASSIST.
“I am 60 years old and disabled,” said Leah, a client of ASSIST. “My application took 12 months. There’s no way I could have gotten through the mountain of paperwork without ASSIST.”
Preserving full staffing for the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office’s River Patrol
Nearly 50 written submissions asked the Board to preserve existing staffing levels for the River Patrol. The proposed budget reduces staffing levels from eight patrol deputies to six.
The Human Access Project, a nonprofit organization that advocates for Portland’s waterways, mobilized floating home residents, outdoor enthusiasts, and water-related business owners to advocate to keep staffing where it is.
“I understand the importance of maintaining adequate staffing levels for emergency response and crime prevention on the waterways,” one written submission read. “Cutting the staffing of Multnomah County River Patrol Deputies by 25% will undoubtedly have a significant impact.”
Prohibiting gas-powered leaf blowers
The Board voted to phase out gas-powered leaf blowers in December 2021, preparing Multnomah County to move away from the devices through a community-wide transition to electric and battery-powered alternatives.
The County received eight written submissions applauding that decision and urging the Board to take further steps.
“The ongoing danger and damage caused by gas leaf blowers call for urgent and bold action by Multnomah County,” wrote Satya Vayu.
Other testimony included requests to preserve Zooming Seniors, an online social connection group for older adults, and increasing access to sobering resources.
Upcoming budget public hearings
The third and final public hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, May 31, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Multnomah Building (501 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd., Portland). The hearing will be a hybrid meeting, which means testimony may be given in-person or virtually. Members of the public can sign up to testify or submit written comments through the Budget Feedback form.
A calendar of Budget Worksessions is available on the Budget Office website.