June 10th, 2010 5:33 pm | by JAMES PITKIN News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, Politics, Multnomah County, CLEAN UP

County Budget Battles: DA Gets Flexibility on Misdemeanors

Mike Schrunk

The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners this morning unanimously approved a $392 million general-fund budget that gives District Attorney Mike Schrunk greater flexibility in setting priorities for his office.

The dust-up over Schrunk's budget has been the big county story in a year when the county had to cut $5.4 million from its general-fund budget, the 10th straight year of cuts.

County Chair Jeff Cogen had proposed cutting $400,000 from Schrunk's misdemeanor unit, prompting Schrunk to say he'd be forced to stop prosecuting some minor crimes if that cut happened.

Schrunk's warning in turn generated an outcry among some residents, business owners and the Fairview City Council. And Commissioner Diane McKeel, who represents east county, offered an amendment to restore Schrunk's misdemeanor budget.

That plan went down in a 4-1 vote today, with only McKeel voting for it.

But Cogen offered his own amendment that would cut just $200,000 from Schrunk's misdemeanor unit and let the DA decide where to cut another $200,000.

The offer was mostly window dressing — both Cogen and Schrunk acknowledge Schrunk has the ultimate authority to decide how he spends money the board gives him. But Cogen's amendment passed 4-1, with McKeel voting no.

There were other last-minute program changes offered by individual commissioners. Some passed and some failed. Overall, Commissioner Deborah Kafoury revealed herself as the most aggressive cutter in identifying fat for the chopping block.

Some of the proposed last-minute changes that passed and failed included:

• A proposal by Kafoury to eliminate the county's $200,000 Work Smart Initiative, designed to increase worker productivity. Her amendment failed, but Cogen offered to move the funding into contingency until the board can assess whether to keep program. Cogen's idea passed.

• A proposal by Kafoury to phase out the $170,000 Food Initiative, which works with community partners to establish a regional food policy, failed.

• Commissioner Barbara Willer proposed restoring $50,000 for drug-and-alcohol prevention. Cogen and Kafoury voted no, but the amendment passed 3-2.

• Kafoury's proposal to cut delay funding the $390,000 "Mental Health Peer Clubhouse" passed unanimously.

• A proposal from Kafoury to delay $220,000 in funding for a new Rockwood Health Clinic failed 3-2. Only Kafoury and Commissioner Judy Shiprack voted to delay the funding.

Cogen warned that with the state facing a worse-than-expected $577 million budget hole, the county will have to make more cuts in the coming months.

"This is not really a day for celebration," Cogen said. "There were some really important things that we did not have the money to fund. And it's going to get worse."
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