Commissioner Sharon Meieran’s prepared remarks after voting to approve the FY 2023 Multnomah County Budget.
Thank you Chair, and thank you to Christian
I want to thank all of my colleagues. I feel immensely privileged to work with this incredible group of women leaders. Thank you Commissioner Stegmann, Commissioner Vega Pederson, and Commissioner Jayapal for centering our values and asking critical questions throughout this budget process. We have a tremendous responsibility to ensure our budget not only is balanced fiscally sound, but reflects and asking critical questions throughout this budget process. We have a tremendous responsibility to ensure our budget not only is balanced fiscally sound, but reflects our values and is responsive to our community.
Chair Kafoury, I would imagine this moment may be bittersweet for you and your team. I don’t think people realize how difficult your job is, but there is no doubt that you have given your heart and soul to serve our community and lead our institution through good times and challenging times. So, thank you and congratulations.
There are too many other people who contributed to the development of this budget that it will be hard to mention everyone who I want to thank - the Community Budget Advisory Committees, Budget Office, the Chair’s Team, Policy Staff, Department Directors and County Staff, hundreds of community members who engaged in our process, and our Chiefs of Staff who worked tirelessly to get us to the finish line and who I’m sure are ready for vacation.
Thank you to my Chief of Staff Cynthia Castro, Kim Melton from the Chair’s Office, Sara Ryan from Commissioner Jayapal’s Office, Chris Fick from Commissioner Vega Pederson’s Office, and Rebecca Stavenjord from Commissioner Stegmann’s Office.
Throughout this budget process I pushed for and supported funding of services and systems improvements that address some of the most urgent crises facing our community: Behavioral health, homelessness, public safety, public health, and ensuring meaningful access to the full range of reproductive health care, including the right to safe abortion services and gender-affirming care. I also have focused on improvements in our systems that can make a difference, along with upstream investments that can impact the root causes of the crises we are seeing so as to stem the inflow and change their trajectory.
The amendments I have brought forward during the budget process reflect my priorities, and offer what I believe will be some tangible steps forward, and I want to thank the community for their input and helping inform my proposals, and my colleagues for their support.
In regard to homelessness, I have continued to push for urgent action and harm reduction to individuals and the community, even as we strive to house all. I have also pushed for a system to understand how many people are living outside, who they are and where they are so that we can actually meet their needs. I appreciate the community of alt shelter providers and visionaries who have come together to establish a network and learning-collaborative to share information and best practices. I believe that we can do more to find more meaningful solutions to this crisis.
My first amendment builds on my advocacy to address the housing crisis and adds capacity to the Joint Office of Homeless Services to help us establish best practices for new alternative shelters, create coordination and collaboration across the universe of alternative shelter providers, and help us understand the impacts of alternative shelters on the lives of the people they serve.
I have also advocated for increased accountability and transparency in our systems. We have an opportunity to ensure that our systems are effective and accountable by tracking and metric assessment.
Our approach should not just be about funding existing services, but ensuring our services are actually working for people. This has a lot to do with how we contract for services, and how we monitor contracts to ensure they are leading to the intended outcomes. While our County contracting has improved over the years and been recognized for excellence, there is still work to be done to improve our processes and work towards even greater accountability, consistency, and responsible management of taxpayer dollars. I look forward to working with our COO, the Chair’s Office, and Department of County Management to hire a consultant who will help do an assessment and provide recommendations for how we take our contracting to the next level.
Accessing culturally responsive healthcare is especially difficult for those in the LGBTQIA+ community, and the impacts are felt deeply and widely. Although I wish we could have allocated more funding to this array of services, I am appreciative of Commissioner Jayapal for co-sponsoring a budget amendment that will add funding to the Health Department budget to contract services focused on creating an affirming and safe environment for LGBTQIA+ community members to receive healthcare.
I continue to be horrified that Roe v Wade will be overturned. While we are fortunate to live in a state that protects abortion rights, there is more work we can do at a local level to provide access to people who are forced to leave their community to seek services here. This is why I am proud to have co-sponsored a budget amendment with Commissioner Vega Pederson to support reproductive healthcare access.
Lastly, I am supporting additional funding to make sure that our most vulnerable community members are able to access the healthcare benefits to which they are entitled; this includes support in navigating the complex and confusing process of obtaining basic services through our federal social security benefits. This work can help prevent homelessness.
In addition to these amendments I am proud to fully support amendments brought forth by my colleagues.
Although I did not officially sponsor the MAAP amendment, my staff and I worked hard to coordinate with the District Attorney’s Office and community partners, in order to make sure that the program has the highest chance of success to build trust with the community and to reduce the most violent crimes in our community.
A huge thank you to my Policy Director Cristina Nieves and Sara Ryan, Chief of Staff to Commissioner Jayapal, for working collaboratively to make sure that we are able to implement a program that will connect community with our justice system; making sure that we are focusing on the most violent crimes and building trust with community members.
There are many other things in the budget that I am very excited about such as funding for the Behavioral Health Resource Center, resources to continue progressing the BHECN project, more mental health support for youth, funding to implement FUSE, additional capacity for the Medical Examiner’s Office, climate justice investments, upstream approaches to curb gun violence and greater capacity for the County to respond to these crises that harm our community and impact the mental health of teachers and students.
While I support this budget as a whole, I did not agree with some elements. That is a part of the give and take of the process, but the ultimate result is a budget that is reflective of the values.
I am confident that if we continue to work collaboratively, there is no problem that this group of amazing leaders and our community cannot solve.###