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June 8th, 2005 Angela Valdez | News Stories
 

THE STICKER SHOCK TO COME

MultCo faces questions ahead about what to do when county income tax ends.

     
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IMAGE: BWANA SPOONS
The just-ended battle over the Multnomah County budget will seem tame next year when the county income tax ends, eliminating more than $100 million a year in money set aside for schools, services and public safety.

"It's going to be so significant next year," says Courtney Wilton, director of administrative services for one of the income-tax beneficiaries, the David Douglas School District. "There's going to be a huge drop-off. It's really going to be shocking to people."

Even with the aid this year of the voter-approved 1.25 percent income tax and a $285,000 custom-made "priority-based budget" process, county Chair Diane Linn and her four board colleagues still fought bitterly over whether to fund jail beds-and over last-ditch efforts to save programs.

And it's hard for the average person to tell where exactly this year's cuts even landed. The county has yet to publish a complete list of programs targeted to end or facing cuts.

Some of the known casualties include a $1 million cut to health services in jails and a $300,000 reduction from school-based mental health care.

The county also has put methadone treatment plans and the River Rock secure facility for offenders with alcohol and drug problems on a list of programs likely to lose funding after this year.

If this newly approved budget remains murky, it's no clearer what schools and social-service agencies can count on in 2006 to stay afloat, once the income tax expires. More than two-thirds of the income-tax money is slotted for schools, with the rest divided between public safety and social services.

Most observers say the county has done its best to make next year's cuts less painful.

The budget approved last week pays off $4.8 million in debt, freeing up the money spent each year on making payments, and places $10 million into a reserve fund. The budget does not rely on any of the $13 million held over in reserves from last year.

"They're creating a glide path so they don't fall off a cliff," says Rhys Scholes, executive director of Citizens for Oregon's Future, a nonprofit that looks at taxes and budgets in the state. "I don't know what else they could do."


The final county budget approved last week will require Sheriff Bernie Giusto to find $2.6 million in savings if 114 jail beds are to open.
 
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