Multnomah County Chair Jeff Cogen has proposed to cut $5.4million from the county's total $340million budget this morning, and also, to pay $120,000 to bring in an outside "efficiency consultant" to save more money. Cogen sat down with the Mercury yesterday to talk about his budget priorities, which include funding alcohol and drug treatment, and expanding access to mental health care—what Cogen calls "spending money upstream to save it later on."
Is Cogen worried that the Jack Bogdanskis of this world might cock a snoop at his decision to pay $120,000 for an outside efficiency expert to tell him how to save money?
"I can't worry about what Jack Bog thinks," says Cogen. "I have to do what I think is right."
The $120,000 was available in the county's management budget to hire a new head of department, but Cogen wants someone from outside the county bureaucracy to come in and look at cuts. Someone with "fresh eyes," he says. "And maybe at the end of the day they'll say you guys are just perfect, but I'd like them to say you guys can save $3m by restructuring this way."
It's the tenth year in a row that the county has had to cut budgets, although the cuts this year are nothing compared to those expected next year, when the state's funding for county services is likely to fall off a cliff. Last year, former chair Ted Wheeler had to cut $40million from the budget, by comparison.
"These state cuts are just a foreshadowing of what's to come," says Cogen. "The state is looking at a $2.5billion shortfall next year. If those cuts are real, there will be significant cuts in Multnomah County. In some ways, this budget is a bit of a breather between next year's cuts, and last year's."
Many of the county's cuts have been made through administrative efficiencies like changing computer systems to save $1.4million. The sheriff has also taken $1.2million in cuts in his department, shaving off the top of his Human resources and training budgets.
The cuts in state funding mean the loss of 75 jail beds at Inverness jail—likely to mean early releases when the jail gets full. And the Department of Community Justice has had to reduce 20 parole officers.
"But we didn't make any additional cuts with our jail," says Cogen. "Our sheriff, Dan Staton, he's very collaborative. We asked what he really needed in order to maintain our jail system, and he said 1300 beds. These cuts will leave us with 1308."
The District Attorney's office is also taking a $400,000 cut.
"We've asked them to focus on misdemeanors prosecutions," says Cogen. "What [District Attorney Mike] Shrunk suggested was cuts to child abuse, domestic violence, and gangs. We thought that was unacceptable, so we said take those cuts in misdemeanor prosecutions instead."
"I know the DA has suggested this will have a bad impact on public safety, but you have to remember the context," says Cogen. "Over the last five years, the crime rate has gone down 12%, while the DA's budget has gone up 9%. The other thing that's important to realize is that the DA's office has increased its funding at the federal level, and because of that, even with these proposed cuts, the DA's budget is increasing. They will have four more employees."
"Obviously I don't like it, and the services the DA provides are important," he continues. "But this is not a public safety apocalypse that we're looking at now."
That'll be next year, it seems.
Get the best of the Mercury each week in your inbox!