County commissioner vows public safety support, in Gateway

Wondering what’s happening at Multnomah County these days? Outer East Portland’s relatively new Commissioner, Judy Shiprack, will bring you up to date, if you read this informative article …

Multnomah County Commissioner Judy Shiprack tells Gateway area business people that budget shortfalls mean some services will have to be cut.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Fulfilling her promise to return, if elected, to speak with men and women at the Gateway Area Business Association, Multnomah County Commissioner Judy Shiprack didn’t mince words – as she told about the hard times ahead for the county.

After her introduction by perennial Gateway booster Fred Sanchez on May 14, Shiprack began, “After a vigorous campaign, I was elected to office – during one of the worst budget years that Multnomah County has had in last nine years. We’ve had to cut budgets in the county for the past nine years; that takes all the priorities that we value, and puts them all in jeopardy.”

The county’s current budget is predicted to fall $42 million short of revenue, Shiprack revealed. “Chair Wheeler’s budget reveals that there are $24 million in direct cuts in programs, such as $1 million of early childhood programs. It also includes cuts at the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Department.”

The economic news, overall, is grim, she continued. “Oregon’s unemployment rate is close to 12%; United States retail sales were down 10 to 12% in April. Portland housing prices are down almost down 14%.”

The county’s budget is influenced by national and state economic conditions, Shiprack pointed out, “Because a third of our funding comes from the state, and another third comes from federal sources.”

Cooperative commissioners seek solutions
On the upside, Shiprack reported, “We have a totally new County Commission – and, the Commissioners are cooperative. We understand how important it is that we communicate well with one another – that we collaborate as a group, and with our partners in the state legislature, with our partners in the City of Portland, the City of Gresham, and Troutdale. Everyone has an oar in the water, and it’s a refreshing change that everyone’s pulling in the same direction.”

As an aside, Shiprack added, “I want to thank you for serving your county commissioner lunch today. It seems like we often have interminable meetings; time to enjoy lunch is always at a premium.”

Commissioner Shiprack says she’s working to preserve public safety programs.

Public Safety topics
Saying that heightened security and public safety have a “really big impact” on the business community, Shiprack endorsed efforts of Oregon State Representatives Jefferson Smith and Nick Kahl, who introduced bills in the legislature permitting “volunteer greeters” at MAX stations to help improve safety. “We are supporting the collaboration between the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) and TriMet.”

A second public safety concern she addressed dealt with the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office. “When I was running for election, I told you that I was keeping a very close eye on the Sheriff’s Office, and watching their response to studies dealing with overtime and a sick leave usage. I’m happy to report that they have responded, and with the leadership of Sheriff Skipper, they have made tremendous improvements in those areas.”

Finding court no-shows
However, the MCSO has faced significant budget cuts, Shiprack said. “I’m concerned about the scofflaws who fail to appear in court. I introduced a budget amendment that would add back a program called back the Warrant Strike Team. We had 30,000 outstanding warrants a Multnomah County. It’s a three-pronged approach to solving this problem.”

The first, the Commissioner noted, was making sure officers and deputies accurately record the violator’s name on their ticket or warrant. “We use a service that calls the person on the phone, and reminds them to appear in circuit court – and tells them if they don’t, a bench warrant will be issued for their arrest.”

The second step is to address the dismissal many of those 30,000 warrants. “Judges tend to dismiss the warrants; it’s like the ultimate reward to the scofflaw. But, we can’t afford to send a MCSO deputy to arrest an individual on a 10-year-old warrant that can’t be successfully prosecuted.”

The third prong, she continued, is the Warrant Strike Team. “This four-deputy unit has made significant arrests. Our position is to hold the line and the integrity of the public safety system.”

Works to bring back the SIU
Finally, Shiprack said they’re making moves to restore the MCSO Special Investigations Unit. This is a nearly $1 million item that Chair Wheeler removed from his budget. “In the last three years they’ve taken over $26 million, in seized dangerous drugs, off the streets; they’ve made over 685 felony arrests, and confiscated over 40 firearms seized during drug investigations.”

County Commissioners will be voting on the budget on June 4 she noted.

Shiprack acknowledges that the County lost credibility with Rockwood neighbors and businesses when the new Justice Center location was moved to downtown Gresham.

East County Justice Center
We asked Commissioner Shiprack for her thoughts on the East County Justice Center – first slated to be built in Rockwood, now moved into downtown Gresham.

“The location has bounced around,” Shiprack responded. “It started off as a $14 million project, increased to $17 million; and then bloomed into a $40 million project. It’s back down to a $17 million project.”

However, she conceded it will not be built in Rockwood. “I can see how the Rockwood neighborhood and business community have some misgivings about our process. I don’t blame them for that.”

Nonetheless, Shiprack added that all capital building projects – including the Gresham courthouse, the MCSO’s Hanson Building, and, the crumbling courthouse downtown – are being put “on hold”. “What we really need is a capital building program; and parallel to that, we need to really focus in on a capital building project – though we also need to develop our own expertise in that area.”

For rent: Wapato
Asked about the new-but-unused Wapato Jail facility. Shiprack told the group, “It’s a state-of-the-art jail; I’ve toured it twice. I think Multnomah County is poised to become the envy of the other counties, and in that we’ll be able to lease this ‘unused asset’ to the State of Oregon, and actually make some money on it.”

Wapato, paid for by taxpayer bonds floated in 1996, is a $52 million facility. “We pay about $300,000 a year just to keep it in ‘mothballs’ since it was completed in 2003. Even adding up those yearly fees, over the last six years, and the total comes out to be less than what it would cost us if we are to build it today. Yes, it’s shameful we built something that we cannot use. But, it was not a bad investment at the time – especially if it can now be rented.”

GABA’s president, AJ Prasad, with Columbia Bank, and Lou Fontana, with Oregon Baptist Retirement Homes, talks up their August 8th Fun-O-Rama National Night Out.

GABA prepares for August 8 celebration
Although the annual Fun-O-Rama Parade and Community Fair at 111th Square was on hiatus this year, the community-minded folks at GABA are teaming up with Oregon Baptist Retirement Homes to put on the “Granddaddy of all National-Night-Out celebrations” on August 8.

“In addition to a big cruise-in,” Fontana touted, “there will be lots of affordable food, two great bands, games, and much more!”

GABA members are well-fed, catered by the Cherry Blossom Loaves and Fishes Center.

Come meet the members
Gateway Area Business Association meets on the second Thursday of each month; networking starts at 11:30 a.m. – their next meeting will be on June 11.

Note: GABA meetings have been moved to Oregon Baptist Retirement Homes, 1825 NE 108th Avenue (just north of NE Weidler Street – in the Community Room, just west from where NE Schuler Street dead-ends into 108th Avenue. For more information, see

© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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