On the afternoon of Tuesday, May 9, 2023, Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson delivered her first State of the County address in Franklin High School’s performing arts center. The room was filled with Franklin students and teachers, county staff, notable Portland politicians, and other Multnomah County community members. The program began with a welcome by Portland Public Schools’ (PPS) Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero, followed by a past City Club board member, Bobby Regan. Then, Chair Vega Pederson delivered her address. Following her address, she was joined by Chabre Vickers, director of equity, policy, and communications for Prosper Portland, for a moderated Q&A section, in which three PPS students, Byronie McMahon, Francesca “Frankie” Sliverstein, and Sophie McEwen asked questions.
Vega Pederson, who has served on Multnomah County’s Board of Commissioners since 2016, was elected as Multnomah County Chair in November 2022. Throughout her address, Vega Pederson emphasized the importance of collaboration and partnership between organizations, cities, the state, and the community in order to address Multnomah County’s biggest issues. “We have the opportunity to work closely together resetting relationships across the county and region with so many issues to prioritize,” says Vega Pederson in her opening remarks video. “Our biggest leadership opportunities may be in how we work together to meet people at critical junctures and then help them find the support, resources, solutions, and abundance they need.” She stressed the importance of the State of the County Address, saying, “[it’s] one of the few times the community is gathered in such a large form to consider who we are and who we can be at this moment in our history.”
Preceding the address had been weeks of budgeting work and review for Multnomah County. Throughout her speech, Vega Pederson outlined her budget priorities including: housing initiatives, wage increases, animal care, violence prevention, behavioral health, early childhood education, and an increase in county emphasis on equity.
“Portland is 24th in the nation for the rate of homelessness among cities with over 100,000 people accounting for a quarter of the homeless population in the state of Oregon; this is a statistic that we have the power and the will to change,” says Vega Pederson. She details a 32 million dollar 12-month plan to unify local and state efforts and aims to reduce unsheltered homelessness starting in Portland. She expects this plan to rehouse 545 households and create 140 shelter beds by the end of this year. Additionally, the fiscal budget allocates over 150 million dollars to varying housing initiatives and databases to further housing placements throughout the county.
As Vega Pederson recounts, the budget also includes “1.5 million dollars for a three percent increase in wages along with more than 500 thousand dollars to stabilize Partnerships and contracts;” a “31 percent increase in Animal Care Staffing;” and “2.5 million dollars for daily operations at the Behavioral Health Resource Centers, including 32 new shelter beds and 19 Bridge housing beds this spring.”
Due to Multnomah County voters passing a new initiative for ranked choice voting, the county is also adding a “one million dollar investment in elections infrastructure and expanded voter outreach and engagement.”
Chair Vega Pederson took a moment in her address to acknowledge the gun violence the Franklin community has faced this year, adding that the budget includes “three million dollars [which will be spread] across departments in gun violence prevention, continuing upstream support and downstream intervention to help keep communities safe.” She explains that the county is committed to family stabilization efforts as well as building resources “to address the root causes and break the cycles of violence.”
In response to a measure passed in 2020, that funds Multnomah County’s Universal preschool program which currently serves more than 700 families. “In [the] proposed budget [Multnomah County] will be doubling our number of available preschool slots in the 2023-24 school year,” says Vega Pederson. “This will add more than 17 million dollars of capital to the preschool for all facilities […] to help build on the promised infrastructure to make sure that we can deliver on the promise of universal preschool.”
In regards to the budgeting process this year, Pederson also took time to explain how the county “us[ed] an equity and empowerment lens that helps [the county] analyze the root causes of racial disparities and shift the way [the county] makes decisions to center equity and align work more fully with [the county’s] values.”
Chair Vega Pederson closed the address explaining her optimism for the county and this upcoming year. “We meet 2023 with new learnings and opportunities,” says the Chair, “this is a time of transition and possibilities with major changes in leadership across the state, the region, and Multnomah County.”