In a move that bodes well for future working ties between the leaders of the region's two most important governing bodies, Mayor Charlie Hales and Multnomah County Chairman Jeff Cogen this afternoon set aside differences that had flared in recent weeks and unveiled a budget agreement meant to preserve a handful of endangered social services programs.
The deal reportedly came together quite rapidly—and after a great deal of pushing by city and county commissioners who had been concerned by what loomed as an awkward standoff. Some staffers hadn't even heard all the details when reached by the Mercury. It was also something of a surprise to commissioners.
"I went out for Thai food and when I came back, they had an agreement," Commissioner Steve Novick says. "I should go out for Thai food more often."
In a year that saw the two governments trade places, with the city making deep cuts (to solve a $21.5 million deficit) and the county holding its own (thanks to last fall's library district vote), the two leaders had been attempting to take tough stands in the name of principle.
"Both of us appreciate the collaborative spirit of our discussions to help the city deal with the budget shortfall it faces this year," Hales and Cogen said in a joint statement first revealed by Cogen's office on Twitter. "We are optimistic this spirit will be a model for our future discussions. The good news today is that we have reached an agreement that will benefit our entire community."
According to data provided by Hales' office, both governments agreed to split the cost of three county SUN schools the city had been paying for, but wanted to stop funding. The county is picking up a needle exchange program, senior recreation services, and helping to pay for the regions' one-stop domestic violence shelter. It's also paying the city for the city's efforts collecting business income taxes.
The city, in turn, will continue to pay $634,000 for the next year to fund its share of operating costs for the Crisis Assessment and Treatment Center—something that emerged as a lightning rod in the burgeoning budget debate, especially after Cogen fired some harsh barbs at Hales over his decision to pull funding.
The city appears to be agreeing to spend a bit more than Hales had initially proposed when he unveiled his budget last month. The two governments aren't trading money so much as they're picking up programs both prized but that had been zeroed out. Advocates for many of those programs were expected to crowd a budget forum tonight at city hall.
· Funds CATC one-time ($634,107 cost)
· Funds half of the SUN Schools pass-through (adding back 1.5 schools for $136,000 cost)
· Further reduces senior center pass-through ($141,454 savings)
· Gets County agreement for additional BIT collection ($200,000 savings)
· Funds the remaining SUN pass-through ($135,000)
· Funds the domestic violence cuts ($64,300 plus $77,000 for victim’s advocate position that was previously one-time funded, total of $141,300)
· Funds needle exchange ($65,000)
· Funds some of the senior center pass-through that was cut, but not all (about $282k
City and county relations have been hot and cold in recent years, but mostly cold. Cogen and former Mayor Sam Adams were known to have a contentious relationship, even as individual commissioners and bureaucrats got along well. The county has long kvetched about Portland's penchant for passing urban renewal districts, which wall off property tax dollars that otherwise would fill the county coffers in the short term, under the promise that improved neighborhoods will one day pay dividends.
Hales made a signature push to cozy up to Cogen—a potential political rival and former city hall insider (he was Commissioner Dan Saltzman's chief of staff) also known to have been intrigued by the mayor's race last year. It was another way to draw a contrast between himself and Adams, who did manage to work with the county on funding part of the Sellwood Bridge rebuild and on deals to give the county two new buildings downtown but failed at attempts to negotiate a grand bargain redrawing the two governments' lines.
Today's deal is a good omen for letting those deeper talks continue. The city auditor's office has called out the muddy nature of the mutual relationship and pressed the city to do more to clarify it.
The CATC stood out as the biggest sore spot in this year's discussions, though it didn't seem that would be the case when Hales took office. It wound up as part of the budget discussion after the Mercury first reported in January that, though it was built as a police resource, the police bureau hadn't ever taken anyone there directly.
Hales wound up recommending cutting it based on the word of the bureau. Cogen knew for weeks that was likely but pushed back with a fury after Hales released his budget plan. As the Mercury reported this month, the disconnect over the cops' use of the CATC has been the product of extreme miscommunication that Hales appears willing to let sift out for another year—in part because the city agreed, under Adams, to help pay for the thing.
Stopping payment would amount to a loss of beds. The CATC conversation, sources say, is also expected to change in another year after federal health care reform expands Medicaid rolls and potentially reduce operating costs at the facility.
Cogen's hardball approach puzzled some in city hall. And solving the impasse over the CATC likely opened the way to the rest of the agreement.
Novick, who helped raise CATC along with Commissioner Nick Fish, said the agreement "looks like a good resolution." And he pointed to the CATC funding in particular.
"I hope the CATC and the police will work things out and police," he says, "and will be able to start taking people there."