OK, this week it's actually two questions for the leading candidates in the May 20 primary election for Multnomah County chair.
But the questions to Jim Francesconi and Deborah Kafoury are closely related. A key responsibility of the Multnomah County chair is writing the county's budget and setting the five-member Board of Commissioners' priorities.
The county's menu of services is not sexy, but it's crucial: jails and post-incarceration supervision; public health, including mental health; addiction treatment; and a host of social services programs designed to provide a safety net for low-income county residents.
The county's general fund this year is $469 million. When you count up all the money, including state and federal funds, it's $1.53 billion.
We wanted to know what Francesconi and Kafoury would do differently.
If you could increase spending on only one county program, what would it be and why?
Francesconi: "Because of the Affordable Care Act and the opportunities there, it's going to free up additional resources for mental health and addiction. [Obamacare pays for health care the county provides free of charge.] There's a gaping hole in the safety net. The additional resources—at least $20 million—should stay with mental health. Any new resources (not from the ACA) should be spent on ramping up social services for poor children in programs connected to our schools, such as summer programs and [Schools Uniting Neighborhoods] programs."
Kafoury: "Helping homeless families get into housing. The county helps homeless families with short-term rent assistance. For example, if a family is dangerously close to being evicted, the county can help with cash infusion. Once a family has become homeless, the county can help in various ways. I found in my five years as a [Multnomah] County commissioner, that if you help people into stable housing, they can better take advantage of other county services, such as drug and alcohol counseling, mental health treatment and job training.â
If you had to discontinue one county function, what would it be and why?
Francesconi: "Right now, the county owns and operates six bridges over the Willamette River. The county should not be in the bridge business. That function should be cut and transferred to either Metro or TriMet, with the city of Portland being part of the process.â