June 4th, 2010 5:33 pm | by JAMES PITKIN News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, Politics, Multnomah County

MultCo Budget Wrangling: McKeel Offers to Save the DA's Misdemeanor Budget

Diane McKeel

Like clockwork each year, Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schrunk rides into battle against the county chair's office to fend off budget cuts in the DA's office.

After 29 years in office and 10 straight years of shrinking county budgets, Schrunk is regarded as a quiet master at such fights. This year he's found allies in traditionally law-and-order-oriented East County with county Commissioner Diane McKeel and the Fairview City Council.

McKeel has offered an amendment to county Chair Jeff Cogen's proposed budget that would restore $400,000 to Schrunk's office. Cogen proposed cutting that amount from the DA's misdemeanor unit — a move Schrunk insists would force him to stop prosecuting some misdemeanors.

McKeel proposes backfilling the DA's budget with $400,000 Cogen currently has slated to help open a nonprofit hotel. The project, run in conjunction with the Portland nonprofit JOIN, would provide temporary housing for the homeless and victims of domestic violence.

Commissioner Deborah Kafoury says the county and homeless-assistance groups currently spend about $60 per hotel voucher to house victims of domestic violence or provide space for the homeless when winter shelters are full. Projects elsewhere have shown running a nonprofit hotel is cheaper, she says.

McKeel needs at least two other votes on the five-member board to pass her budget amendment and restore the DA's misdemeanor funding. Kafoury and Cogen both say they're against the proposal. Commissioners Judy Shiprack and Barbara Willer have not yet returned phone calls for comment.

Kafoury says one reason she opposes McKeel's plans is because it would use one-time money to pay for an ongoing program — a practice McKeel herself has said she's against.

McKeel, who represents East County, isn't the only one bringing pressure to restore the DA's budget. The Fairview City Council passed a resolution (PDF) Wednesday urging the county board to back McKeel's amendment.

McKeel has not yet returned a phone call seeking comment. We'll update this post after she and the other commissioners get back to us.
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