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County officials cut SUN budget

Commissioners also vote to pull business tax in '08

As expected, Multnomah County commissioners in a 3-2 vote cut $1.7 million in funding for a popular school program and laid the groundwork needed to yank East County's share of the business income tax.

Commissioners on Thursday, June 22, approved a $1.3 billion budget for 2006-07, including a nearly 9-percent reduction in county funding for the Schools Uniting Neighborhoods program. The budget also includes a resolution that serves as the required two-year's notice to terminate a 30-year business income tax agreement with East County.

SUN cuts

The budget cuts about $1.7 million from the county's $19 million in funding for SUN, a community schools and social services program that helps provide at-risk students and families everything from clothing to mentors to sports physicals.

County commissioners Lisa Naito, Serena Cruz Walsh and Maria Rojo de Steffey originally proposed cutting half the county's 52 SUN school coordinators and placing those remaining in charge of two schools - in effect gutting the program and making it totally ineffective, critics charged.

The commissioners say the SUN program hasn't proved it actually works, that after-school programs are not a county service and that other programs take greater funding priority. They'd also like to rework the SUN program to focus more on schools with the highest poverty levels, prioritize county services over after-school activities and reduce a disproportionately high number of administrators.

Now, instead of cutting half the SUN school site coordinators (incidentally, coordinators are not considered administrators), the SUN program director must outline how to make those $1.7 million in cuts.

The commissioners also say they're willing to sit down with Chairman Elect Ted Wheeler, who takes office on Jan. 1, 2007, to work on a long-term plan for the program and spearhead a fund-raising effort.

Business income tax

Under the current business-income tax agreement, the county collects 1.45 percent of the net income earned by county businesses, with East County cities receiving about a 10-percent portion of that tax, which totals about $4.14 million for the four cities.

Although they claimed to welcome a 'dialogue' regarding the issue, commissioners Naito, Cruz Walsh and Rojo de Steffey terminated the agreement, which calls for negotiating new individual business-income tax agreements with Gresham, Troutdale, Fairview and Wood Village.

East County Commissioner Lonnie Roberts and Chairwoman Diane Linn firmly voted against the resolution, as well as the SUN funding cuts.

Local city officials feel the resolution will allow county commissioners to withhold payments to individual cities, which the county tried to do last year to Gresham, but later revoked its two-years' notice.

'It's not a dead issue,' said Gresham Mayor Charles Becker after the vote. He thinks the matter will truly be resolved after a new commissioner replaces Cruz Walsh next year.

Gresham Council President Shane Bemis said the three commissioners should have engaged in a dialogue before approving the resolution.

In fact, following the tax vote, one county staffer quipped, 'If they wanted a dialogue, all they had to do was pick up the phone.'

For now, East County cities plan to discuss the issue with Wheeler and the two candidates competing for Cruz Walsh's seat on the November ballot.

Multnomah County will continue to provide the cities' collective share until July 1, 2008.

by Mara Stine

staff writer

As expected, Multnomah County commissioners in a 3-2 vote cut $1.7 million in funding for a popular school program and laid the groundwork needed to yank East County's share of the business income tax.

Commissioners on Thursday, June 22, approved a $1.3 billion budget for 2006-07, including a nearly 9-percent reduction in county funding for the Schools Uniting Neighborhoods program. The budget also includes a resolution that serves as the required two-year's notice to terminate a 30-year business income tax agreement with East County.

SUN cuts

The budget cuts about $1.7 million from the county's $19 million in funding for SUN, a community schools and social services program that helps provide at-risk students and families everything from clothing to mentors to sports physicals.

County commissioners Lisa Naito, Serena Cruz Walsh and Maria Rojo de Steffey originally proposed cutting half the county's 52 SUN school coordinators and placing those remaining in charge of two schools - in effect gutting the program and making it totally ineffective, critics charged.

The commissioners say the SUN program hasn't proved it actually works, that after-school programs are not a county service and that other programs take greater funding priority. They'd also like to rework the SUN program to focus more on schools with the highest poverty levels, prioritize county services over after-school activities and reduce a disproportionately high number of administrators.

Now, instead of cutting half the SUN school site coordinators (incidentally, coordinators are not considered administrators), the SUN program director must outline how to make those $1.7 million in cuts.

The commissioners also say they're willing to sit down with Chairman Elect Ted Wheeler, who takes office on Jan. 1, 2007, to work on a long-term plan for the program and spearhead a fund-raising effort.

Business income tax

Under the current business-income tax agreement, the county collects 1.45 percent of the net income earned by county businesses, with East County cities receiving about a 10-percent portion of that tax, which totals about $4.14 million for the four cities.

Although they claimed to welcome a 'dialogue' regarding the issue, commissioners Naito, Cruz Walsh and Rojo de Steffey terminated the agreement, which calls for negotiating new individual business-income tax agreements with Gresham, Troutdale, Fairview and Wood Village.

East County Commissioner Lonnie Roberts and Chairwoman Diane Linn firmly voted against the resolution, as well as the SUN funding cuts.

Local city officials feel the resolution will allow county commissioners to withhold payments to individual cities, which the county tried to do last year to Gresham, but later revoked its two-years' notice.

'It's not a dead issue,' said Gresham Mayor Charles Becker after the vote. He thinks the matter will truly be resolved after a new commissioner replaces Cruz Walsh next year.

Gresham Council President Shane Bemis said the three commissioners should have engaged in a dialogue before approving the resolution.

In fact, following the tax vote, one county staffer quipped, 'If they wanted a dialogue, all they had to do was pick up the phone.'

For now, East County cities plan to discuss the issue with Wheeler and the two candidates competing for Cruz Walsh's seat on the November ballot.

Multnomah County will continue to provide the cities' collective share until July 1, 2008.

Pamplin Media Group reporter Jennifer Anderson contributed to this article.