May 13th, 2010 5:33 pm | by JAMES PITKIN News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, Multnomah County

Cogen Gives Birth to his First County Budget

Cogen 1

New Multnomah County Chair Jeff Cogen this morning presented his proposed 2010-2011 budget to the board of commissioners, who will now spend a few weeks wrangling with department heads before passing a final spending plan next month.

It was the 10th straight year of budget cuts in Multnomah County, due mainly to declining state revenues that pass through the county and Oregon's screwed-up property tax system.

But Cogen, who took office as chair April 1, had a relatively painless delivery birthing his first budget. The county's shortfall this year was $5.4 million. Last year, then-Chair Ted Wheeler (who was appointed state treasurer in March) had to cut $40 million.

"It's almost a good-news budget, especially compared to last year," Cogen tells WW. "We were able to keep our head above water."

Cogen says most of the cuts came from administration — including $500,000 sliced from the Department of County Management, $400,000 from facilities maintenance and $250,000 from fleet services.

The sheriff's office is losing one dorm at Inverness Jail, bringing jail beds down to 1,300 total. Other sheriff's programs like the warrant strike team and the river patrol were saved with one-time money.

Cogen's biggest budget fight is likely to be with Mike Schrunk, the veteran district attorney who rides into battle each year against the county chair to prevent cuts to his office. He's already claiming he'll be forced to stop prosecuting some misdemenaors, as reported in The Oregonian.

Cogen says he's cutting about $400,000 out of the DA's $25.7 million budget. But with increased federal grants, Cogen says Schrunk's budget is actually increasing from last year, and Schrunk will gain three additional prosecutors at a time when crime rates have declined.

"I don't know why it would be the case that he would have to stop prosecuting crimes," Cogen says. "We didn't want to cut the DA's office, but it's not the case that this is going to be a crisis in public safety."

Cogen added that his budget would expand the access to health and dental care in East County, provide an additional 100,000 meals to low-income kids and open a year-round emergency shelter for homeless families.

"At a time when so many people are in need, we need to protect those services that help the most vulnerable populations," Cogen says. "That was my No. 1 priority."
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