Multnomah County’s Mental Health Services Expected to be Largely Preserved

From the Lund Report, September 8, 2011

Services are proposed to continue for one year using one-time only money and reserves in light of $11 million in state budget cuts

September 8, 2011—Multnomah County Chair Jeff Cogen is proposing to use one-time only money and reserves from the county’s Verity funds to sustain funding for mental health crisis services and other social services effected by state cuts totaling $11 million, which were announced late last week.

 Joanne Fuller, Multnomah County Chief Operating Officer

Joanne Fuller, Multnomah County Chief Operating Officer

The proposal preserves funding for mental health crisis services, juvenile justice programs, public safety and domestic violence services through the end of this fiscal year –June 30 of next year.The county’s board of commissioners is scheduled to vote on the proposal on September 15 in order to rebalance the county’s budget.

The county is using a total of $7.8 million from a mix of general fund money, one-time only money, and the county’s Verity account to mitigate the state cuts.

“The mitigation proposal is designed to address the state cuts…in a very conservative way,” Joanne Fuller, the county’s chief financial officer, told the board during a Tuesday work session.

The proposal does not restore funding to all programs. The juvenile justice system is proposed to be partially cut, including alcohol and drug treatment and a gang outreach team, and services for mentally ill people committed to the Oregon State Hospital when that person experiences a sudden mental health crisis.

“We looked to fund those critical services that we felt the community couldn’t live without,” Fuller said.

Layoffs are also expected; however, it’s unclear how many positions will be cut.

Fuller said the proposal gives the board and the county’s human services department time to consider how to deliver services more efficiently and effectively. The worse case scenario, she said, is that services will be funded for one year, then eliminated.

“A lot of these cuts may be the new normal from the state,” Fuller worries. “The chances of getting money back in many of these areas may be very slim.”

The state cuts, Fuller said, are the result of a new funding formula that determines how much funding the counties receive for social service programs. Previously, such formulas were based on a variety of factors, including demand for services. Now, the formula is based solely on a county’s total population.

“We knew Multnomah County was going to get less money,” but it ended up being “a lot less money,” Fuller said.

County Commissioner Deborah Kafoury said state legislators have reacted with surprise to the reductions caused by the new formula, not “realizing the cuts were basically eviscerating the entire mental health system.”

“I’m still trying to figure out why nobody seemed to know this was coming,” she said.

If the commissioners approve Cogen’s proposal, the county will have approximately $2.2 million left in unspent one-time only money, and $100,000 in unspent general funds.

Fuller said it makes sense to use one-time only money from a service delivery perspective, but that it puts the county in a less sound financial position moving into the next budget year. “Verity is not an ongoing resource,” she said.

Cogen expects more funding cuts as the federal government attempts to trim the national deficit. And he expects the Legislature to make more cuts during its February session. “This is not the only bad news we’re going to have this budget year,” he said.

“The cuts that are coming will probably be even worse than these,” Kafoury said.

In a moment of grim irony on Tuesday, Cogen summed up what local governments may expect if the economy doesn’t improve and cuts to human service programs continue: “The good news is that they’ll have to stop cutting eventually, because they will have nothing to cut.”