Multnomah County Board of Commissioners adopts 2016 budget

June 18, 2015

Lee Po Cha, executive director of the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization, addresses the board before the budget adoption on Thursday morning.
Lee Po Cha, executive director of the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization

The Multnomah Board of County Commissioners Thursday adopted a 2016 budget that heavily invests in programs targeted at narrowing racial divides in health, safety, education, criminal justice and financial stability.

“I believe this is a budget that will help make real and lasting change for our community,” Chair Deborah Kafoury said of the $1.7 billion budget. “It is an important first step toward making Multnomah County more fair and more equitable.”

Leaders from culturally-specific nonprofits applauded the board’s budget in a room packed with advocates and the clients they serve.

Lee Po Cha, executive director of the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization, thanked the board for including their clients in the budget process, organizing community meetings and holding a formal budget hearing at the IRCO office in East Portland.

  “I don’t think I’ve ever heard so many representatives of communities of color congratulate the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners in all my life,” said Ron Herndon director of Albina Head Start.
Ron Herndon, director of Albina Head Start

“Long ago we tried to get the door open to be part of the process and the last several years the county has made that happen. That is such a wonderful thing,” he said. “Now moving forward, I’ve seen you provide strong vision and leadership to help us close the disparity gap.”

Executive director of the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, Joseph Santos-Lyons applauded the county’s support of four positions in the Health Department to identify and meet the needs of Pacific Islander, Native American, African American and Latino residents.

He called the 2016 budget a “milestone.”

“It feels like you got it right,” he said. “You engaged our folks early and often and i a meaningful way.”

Ron Herndon is director of Albina Head Start and a longtime advocate. He has challenged local government to do more to tackle inequality.

Commissioner Judy Shiprack
Commissioner Judy Shiprack

“I must say congratulations,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard so many representatives of communities of color congratulate the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners in all my life.”

Commissioner Judy Shiprack said Kafoury prepared a budget that balanced human need with fiscal responsibility.

Commissioner Diane McKeel
Commissioner Diane McKeel

“Thank you Chair Kafoury for crafting an outstanding executive budget to focus on the needs of our youngest, our oldest, our most vulnerable, and those who have no place to call home,” said Shiprack. She said investing in the courthouse replacement project now helps ensure the county can break ground on a new site in 2016. It will also allow the county to avoid future borrowing costs.

“So your budget is not only a budget that reflects the humanity of the county but also reflects our eye to a good investment,” she said.

The 2016 budget sets aside $28 million in one-time funds to invest in the replacement of the county courthouse, balances the budget over three years, invests $2 million in ongoing new funding for permanent housing and $5 million to increase the number of affordable housing units.

After years of cuts during the recession, this year’s budget allows the county to invest in prevention.

It dedicates $2 million to Promise Neighborhoods, an initiative that supports culturally-specific services for children and families struggling with poverty, trauma and racism.

Commissioner Loretta Smith, a champion of Promise Neighborhoods, said the budget reflects  the values of each commissioner. Kafoury’s budget also recognizes barriers for communities of color.

Commissioner Loretta Smith
Commissioner Loretta Smith

“Thank you for leadership and courage,” Smith said. “Thank you for your value driven launch and thank you for commitment and dedication to vulnerable communities.”

The budget includes $280,000 to expand Schools Uniting Neighborhoods (SUN), into four schools in the Parkrose, Gresham and Reynolds school districts. The program unites schools and culturally-specific community groups to make sure kids - mostly kids of color and many who speak a language other than English at home -- have what they need to succeed, such as meals and a safe place to hang out after class.

And the budget sets aside $4.54 million for justice reinvestment, wherein some offenders who would otherwise go to prison complete a customized and intensive rehabilitation plan. The program is part of a statewide effort to reduce recidivism, save taxpayer dollars and give offenders the tools to start again.

Commissioner Jules Bailey thanked his colleagues for fighting for the programs they believed in. 

Commissioner Jules Bailey
Commissioner Jules Bailey

“You have each demonstrated your values in this process with your strong commitment to justice, to equity, and to serving those who are most vulnerable in our community,” he said. “This is a budget that does make those investments, now and for the future. It addresses racial disparities, equity, homelessness, veterans services, and resiliency in our community, resiliency in our infrastructure, and a continued focus on making Multnomah County the best place to raise a family.”

Following a cheerful (and at times cheer-filled) hearing, the board prepared to vote.

Chair Deborah Kafoury
Chair Deborah Kafoury

“I would be remiss not to mention the juxtaposition of the joy we are feeling here today with sorrow we’re feeling for the recent events in South Carolina,” Kafoury said, her voice wavering as she spoke of abut the nine churchgoers killed Wednesday night at a historically Black church in Charleston by a young white suspect.

“My heart is broken this morning and I know that all of us in the community feel the same way,” she said. “My hopes and prayers go out to all the folks in South Carolina who are struggling this morning.”

In the audience, solemn heads nodded, and the applause this time came spontaneously and strong.