Updated at 4 p.m. to include Board members' remarks and the Library budget.
MUTNOMAH COUNTY — Chair Jessica Vega Pederson today released her Executive Budget for Fiscal Year 2024, a $3.5 billion action plan that urgently bridges the community’s transition from the COVID-19 pandemic to recovery, from disruption to stability, and from isolation to partnership.
The Chair’s first budget — delivered 116 days since taking office — demonstrates her commitment to addressing critical community needs in homeless services, Animal Services, behavioral health care and community violence. It strategically positions the County to manage the ramp down of federal pandeic relief and the longer-term threats of inflation and volatile property tax revenues. Beyond the numbers, it reflects Multnomah County’s core goal to provide our community, our partners and our employees with a more equitable and just community.
The plan funds the services delivered by 11 County departments and 5,749 full time employees, including public offices led by three independently elected officials: Sheriff Nicole Morrisey O’Donnell, District Attorney Mike Schmidt and Auditor Jennifer McGuirk.
“This budget reflects not only the challenges we face today, but also where we want to go and what our community wants to be,” said Chair Vega Pederson. “To me that is a place where more people are housed, earning a living wage, safe in their neighborhoods and feeling hopeful for our children’s future.”
Today’s release at the Board of Commissioners meeting launches six weeks of public discussion and worksessions, including three evening public hearings with virtual and in-person options to testify in May before the Board votes on the final budget Thursday, June 8.
Building homeless services
Throughout her 2024 spending roadmap, the Chair addresses several current crises and the persistent needs of the most vulnerable community members, including families with children, veterans and older adults, people with disabilities, and those with behavioral health challenges.
Chief among those is activating $280 million for homeless and housing services, marshaling revenue from the County General Fund, the City of Portland, the Metro Supportive Housing Services measure, and state and federal sources to the Joint Office of Homeless Services. The investments will fund housing placements, rent assistance and support, and support an ongoing expansion of congregate, alternative and motel-based shelters and street outreach work. It commits $17 million in General Fund dollars to continue critical shelter beds that opened with federal relief funding during the pandemic.
New this year is a partnership with the City of Portland, the State of Oregon, and other emergency management and regional jurisdictional partners, to establish a Multi-Agency Coordinating (MAC) group focused on directly reducing unsheltered homelessness. The MAC group will coordinate an infusion of Supportive Housing Services and state resources for housing placements, outreach workers and shelter beds. And it will lead a new County initiative called “Housing Multnomah Now,” fully funded in the FY 2024 budget, that is built on best practices from across the country.
This combined state and local initiative, led by the Joint Office through the MAC group, is a $32 million, 12-month plan to unify efforts to bring urgency and coordination toward reducing unsheltered homelessness.
Housing Multnomah Now will start in Portland’s central city. From there, it will expand to housing unsheltered individuals in a part of East County. This program uses a by-name list and a targeted timeline with the purpose of providing options, support and a path connecting people directly to housing to stop the shuffle of moving people from one location to another as they’re living outside.
In all, the MAC group will work to house 575 people experiencing unsheltered homelessness — 300 people through Housing Multnomah Now and 275 people with state emergency funding.
Bolstering Animal Services
The Chair’s budget includes a 31% increase in animal care staff to address a workforce crisis that broke into view in January at the Multnomah County Animal Services shelter in Troutdale. It adds 10 full-time positions to help the County meet national guidelines for animal care and control. The funding is among the steps the Chair is taking to address long-standing concerns at the shelter, and stabilize operations, while a deep and detailed overhaul is underway.
Supporting community safety, addressing behavioral health
The Chair’s budget strengthens investments in the Behavioral Health Resource Center, the Behavioral Health Emergency Coordination Network, school-based mental health supports and homelessness services. This includes funding the Behavioral Health Division’s Crisis Line, mobile crisis outreach team, urgent walk-in clinic and peer support services. Both the Crisis Line and mobile crisis outreach team provide 24/7 access to clinical support.
Moreover, it responds to the increase in behavioral health acuity, illicit substance use and violence in central Portland by continuing to fund the Old Town Inreach Program to provide targeted clinical and peer support services to people surviving on the streets of Old Town.
The FY 2024 budget also continues funding to support communities most impacted by the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, including a $500,000 one-time-only investment to continue behavioral health outreach to older adults and Black, Indigenous and other People of Color (BIPOC) who are experiencing significant barriers, helping them to address symptoms of stress, anxiety, depression, isolation, fear and loneliness.
One of the budget’s largest focused investments will maintain the full capacity of the County’s jail beds. Adequate jail capacity ensures that the County’s detention system supports the safety and health of those who work and reside in County facilities. Toward that end, the Chair is also funding additional staff and services in Corrections Health’s behavioral health team to address the influx of youth and adults in custody with high behavioral health needs. The budget includes a $1 million staffing model for Corrections Health to recruit and retain staff in an area that has been fraught with staff shortages and overtime needs.
In the District Attorney’s Office, the Chair’s budget directs $750,000 to fund two full-time investigators and two full-time prosecutors to reduce a backlog of gun violence cases. Previously, these positions were funded by one-time-only American Rescue Plan dollars. It also allocates new funding for an Auto and Commercial Retail Theft Unit in the District Attorney’s Office that will take a more targeted and coordinated approach in addressing these rising crimes.
Carrying out voter-approved Preschool for All and Library initiatives
Over the past few years new voter approved initiatives have led to new funding for supportive housing services, Preschool for All, and an overhaul of the library facilities, enlarging the scale and scope of the County's work significantly.
The FY 2024 budget funds Preschool for All for the upcoming year and its ongoing work to build the infrastructure necessary to reach universal access. This includes doubling the number of slots for the 2024-25 school year to 1,400; $10 million to build up the inventory of developable spaces to accommodate the preschool sites needed to continue PFA expansion; and $17.8 million into the current infrastructure to increase the active pipeline of both preschools and preschool providers.
Careful and responsible management of funds
The County began this budget cycle with a $2.6 million deficit in the General Fund, which required all departments, except the Joint Office of Homeless Services, to plan for a 1.5% constraint to their current service levels. The deficit also limited the Chair’s ability to consider including new programs.
The Chair has also moved to extend the lifelines community members received through the 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and the 2021 American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act by covering those deep and persistent needs with County General Fund dollars. As the County faces the loss of $113 million in American Rescue Plan funding, the Chair’s budget uses mostly one-time-only funds to continue critical safety net programs that support housing stability, behavioral healthcare, and culturally specific wraparound services.
The COVID-19 pandemic also highlighted the community’s critical reliance on the County’s human services contractors. Departments were instructed to provide a 5% cost-of-living adjustment for General Fund human services contractors in FY 2024, unless there were other contractual considerations.
The Chair’s budget also increases the County’s General Fund and Business Income Tax reserves, to help County services better withstand a recession or any potential unforeseen reductions in state or federal funds.
Public invited to participate
The Board of County Commissioners will hold a series of public worksessions to review each department and office’s proposed budget in-depth. Commissioners will also host three public hearings outside traditional working hours to deliberate and receive comment on the budget. These Wednesday night meetings are scheduled for May 10, May 17, and May 31. A full calendar of budget worksessions is available on the County Budget Office website.
“As I look to this next fiscal year, my first full year in this new role as Chair, I feel confident in our ability to address complex issues,” Chair Jessica Vega Pederson said. “As we continue to adapt to our post pandemic world and structure our investments accordingly, this is our opportunity to define what the safety net looks like how it serves those who need it the most.”
Board members share thoughts on the Executive Budget
Commissioner Sharon Meieran said, “In the $3.5 billion budget, how are we being accountable to the people we serve, the taxpayers, for using that money wisely II am eager to hear feedback from community members, in particular, and constituents, and county budget advisory committees.”
Commissioner Susheela Jayapal noted the budget process comes in the middle of a massive transition in leadership and funding: “I think this is a really important year,” Commissioner Jayapal said “Many of the challenges created during the pandemic remain. They didn’t actually go away in a fixed three-year period. Figuring out how to support those continued impacts out of that federal funding is a real challenge.”
“This is my first budget process as a commissioner and I look forward to the work ahead of us,” Commissioner Diane Rosenbaum said. “I want to thank the Chair and her team for the tremendous effort that goes into crafting an executive budget that gives us a strong starting point for our deliberation as a Board.”
Commissioner Lori Stegmann added that she hoped the County could “find ways to streamline and improve our efficiencies, as well as our services.”Always, it is my charge to try to deliver the highest and best use of taxpayer money.”
After the Board adopted the Chair’s Executive Budget to launch the public process, they approved the submission of the Multnomah County Library District’s budget for FY 2024.
Library launches its budget process as well
The Library’s total proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year is $108 million. The proposed budget for the upcoming year maintains the library's essential work and emphasizes its commitment to serving marginalized and oppressed communities. The budget prioritizes location-based services, outreach programs, technology, capital projects, and more.
Furthermore, the Library will continue to channel its resources towards achieving successful program outcomes by investing in bond funds and transforming library spaces. This involves a special project program to cater for temporary space and storage needs during bond closures, supporting community partnerships, promoting technology for creative learning spaces, improving data equity approaches, updating security incident tracking systems, and providing additional resources for public information in multiple languages.