When the proponents of Measure 26-48 tried to convince voters in May to pass a self-inflicted income tax increase, they used scare tactics: Without the tax increase, jails would close, criminals would run free, and social services would come to a screeching halt. Measure 26-48 passed handily; however, in spite of the extra cash padding county budgets, social services continue to be slashed. More alarming is that even as the county complains there isn't enough money for social services or operating the jails at full capacity, last week county workers received generous income increases.
The county sheriff's office was perhaps the most vociferous proponent for a tax increase. Using strong-armed tactics, the sheriff's office very publicly released non-violent offenders and created a revolving door at the jail. Now, the same county department has pat itself on the back with a 3.2 percent "cost of living" pay increase.
Measure 26-48 effectively amounts to a 1.25 percent pay cut across the board for Multnomah County residents--but 3200 county employees are slated to receive a 2.5 percent wage increase.
Meanwhile, social programs had large budget cuts; Janus Youth, for instance, lost $159,000 (or about a fifth of their budget). Along with other agencies helping youth in the county, Janus isn't expected to fare any better during the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. Janus Youth provides both street-based and residential services in order to help kids transition from life on the streets to a safer life. Many youth end up at one of two downtown shelters for young people; both exist on county and federal funds. As Dennis Morrow, executive director of JYP, puts it, "When you reduce money, it will potentially leave kids on the street."
Local social service workers petitioned the county commissioners for more funds earlier this month. "Since the onset of January 2003 budget cuts, two of our clients have been murdered. We believe that there is a direct correlation between the loss of essential services and their deaths," read a prepared statement to the county commissioners written by local social service workers. "Eliminating this financial 'burden' will create problems elsewhere in the city. Responsibilities will only be shifted to police forces and other agencies that are inappropriate to deal productively with these problems."
The county commissioners were able to put $100,000 back into JYP's budget two weeks ago, but a gaping hole of $360,000 still remains.