As he prepares to pass an "approved" budget for the coming fiscal year tomorrow, Mayor Ted Wheeler is on the hunt for more cash to fight homelessness.
It's still too early to say where the money will come from, but Wheeler's office tells the Mercury that after a meeting with Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury on Thursday, he's agreed to delve into his budget—which contains an $18.6 million surplus that was quickly spoken for—to find more money.
"We’ve committed to working together to see if we can find some additional funding," Wheeler spokesman Michael Cox said this afternoon. "We're not talking about a specific dollar amount."
That's apparently not how the county understands things. According to spokesperson Julie Sullivan-Springhetti, county officials left last week's meeting believing Wheeler would be looking for $1.7 million to bolster the city/county Joint Office of Homeless Services.
"That was the understanding the county left with," Sullivan-Springhetti says.
The decision comes after Wheeler clashed publicly with Kafoury over the $25 million he's proposed for the homelessness office. Kafoury increased the county's spending on homelessness by over $3 million this year, and had asked that the city follow suit. Wheeler initially declined, noting that the $25 million contained in his budget proposal matched the county's funding.
The collective $50 million is actually more than the homelessness office had to work with last year, but because some of the money is limited in its use—and officials want to offer more varied services—concerns circulated that shelter beds might be eliminated.
At a recent meeting of the coordinating board for A Home For Everyone, a task force strategizing on how to fight the city's homelessness crisis, Wheeler called the funding standoff "city-county budget poker" and suggested a deeper conversation should take place about how the $50 million was spent.
But it appears something changed after he and Kafoury met last week. Cox wouldn't comment on anything that had specifically changed in Wheeler's outlook, but said: "This is the beginning of what's going to be a multi-year relationship between this mayor and this chair. We started January 1, but of course the Joint Office budget planning started well before we took office."
Cox says any additional money for homelessness won't be reflected in a budget proposal council, acting as the city's budget committee, is set to approve tomorrow. Instead, it would be hashed out between that vote, and a final adoption of the budget next month.
That doesn't mean there won't be changes to tomorrow's budget proposal. In particular, Wheeler might face pressure to increase the money spent on a new publicly-funded elections program set to begin in 2019, or alter his allocation for the city's 3 percent tax on recreational pot sales.