Clackamas County panel eyes final budget review
Even as the total amount increases, the Clackamas County budget now undergoing public review proposes to hold the line on services and employees for the coming year.
The five commissioners and five citizen members are scheduled to discuss Tuesday (June 6) what they have heard over five days of presentations by county agencies and seven special districts that are legally separate but governed by the commissioners.
Total proposed spending, including the special districts, tops $1 billion for the year starting July 1. The amount for the county itself is proposed at $781 million, up 8 percent from the current $722 million, but both figures double-count about $100 million in transfers between funds so actual spending is less.
The general fund, which consists largely of property taxes that county officials have the most discretion to spend, makes up about one-third of the total.
The budget projects a slight decline in full-time positions from 2,065 to 2,049.
It also assumes slower growth in property taxes — 4.75 percent, compared with the actual 5.14 percent this past year — and increased personnel costs of 5 percent ($12.6 million). The biggest chunk of that increase is county contributions to the public-pension system, which are projected to jump by 20 percent ($5 million).
It assumes no increases in property tax rates, which are $2.40 per $1,000 of assessed value in cities and $2.97 per $1,000 in rural areas.
For the Health, Housing and Human Services Department, which employs about a quarter of the total county workforce, the number will drop from 511 to 496 full-time positions. The total budget is proposed at $126.7 million, but only $9.3 million of it from the general fund. Most of the rest comes from state and federal grants that await legislative and congressional action.
In the only public testimony that members heard on the budget, Martha McLennan, executive director of Northwest Housing Alternatives, urged the panel to retain $200,000 proposed in the agency budget to help people without permanent housing.
Clackamas County's recent count of homeless people reported 2,293 people, up 4 percent from 2,196 in 2015. The 2013 total was 2,070.
But the number of children without homes rose 35 percent from 1,026 to 1,384. The number of unsheltered people — those living in their cars, on the street or other places not normally considered suitable for housing — jumped 54 percent from 484 to 746.
"Those are our target populations for our preventive services," said McLennan, whose agency is based in Milwaukie.
The Sheriff's Department, also a large county agency, will lose a net three positions from 449 to 446, although the proposed budget will increase from $85 million to $92 million. Unlike other agencies, it is highly dependent on the general fund at $57.5 million.
No one actually lost jobs, even though there will be a net loss.
Four deputies were carried over for one year, in accordance with state law, after voters discontinued Damascus as a city last year. That period ends July 17. One deputy will be paid from the Enhanced Law Enforcement District, which serves urban unincorporated areas and has a separate tax levy; the other three deputies were transferred to fill vacancies.
However, the sheriff's budget relies on about $3 million in carryover funds to balance it for the coming year — and a report presented to the budget committee last year projects that the agency will fall millions short of maintaining staffing levels in future years.
"We would have a difficult time keeping pace with our operational needs," said Nancy Artmann, the sheriff's budget manager.
Sheriff Craig Roberts last year sought funding for six more deputies to enable the staff to open 26 unused beds at the jail in Oregon City. But the budget committee was unable to find the extra money.
The sheriff is meeting goals set for crime rates — below 2,400 incidents per 100,000 people for property crimes, and 95 incidents per 100,000 people for violent crimes — but projects that "forced" releases from the jail will rise to 3,200, contrary to a goal of 2 percent reductions. Such releases of offenders occur when the jail is at capacity; the number has hovered around 2,900 in each of the past two years.
Later, after sheriff's officials concluded their presentation, Commissioner Paul Savas said "we may have lost an opportunity" when voters last fall overwhelmingly approved a five-year extension of a sheriff's countywide levy at the current rate of 24.8 cents per $1,000 of taxable property value.
The measure passed with a 77 percent majority.