City News

Hoy supports statewide mayors’ ask for state money to combat homelessness

Salem isn’t part of a statewide task force of mayors seeking annual state funding to address homelessness — but the city’s new mayor says he supports the effort.

A group of 25 Oregon mayors on Monday put forward a plan to ask the Oregon Legislature for $125 million in annual funding — an amount intended to give each city $40 per resident to tackle the issue, rather than the current patchwork of grants and uncertain funding sources.

“We are calling upon the state for continued investment with partnership with all 241 cities in Oregon to address the crisis because mayors, we are on the frontline of this crisis,” said Beaverton Mayor Lacey Beaty during a Monday news conference. “We are closest to the issue and we are uniquely equipped to address it. And while we have significant skin in the game, our city’s budget cannot do what needs to be done to solve this without significant state resources.”

Mayor Chris Hoy said the task force’s proposal is a good approach to an issue that has challenged Salem and cities around Oregon.

“It’s really a statewide concern. Having a statewide funding strategy makes a lot of sense. Our tax structure doesn’t allow cities to have the revenue needed to fight this problem,” he told Salem Reporter.

Salem has substantially expanded city funding for homeless services in recent years, including paying for micro shelter villages run by Church at the Park and working to open a new navigation center for people to connect with needed services.

But most of those efforts are funded by one-time federal Covid relief money, which is set to expire in 2024. When that funding runs out, the city doesn’t have a way to keep paying for many homeless services.

The city’s chief financial officer in May warned city councilors that the city was facing a “budget cliff” where the cost of providing basic services, like firefighting and approving building permits, would soon outpace the city’s ability to collect taxes and other revenue.

Hoy said Oregon cities face substantial constraints on revenue because state law caps property tax increases at 3% per year, regardless of how much the assessed value of property rises.

“We’re fighting just to do traditional things cities have done,” he said. “Social services and mental health and those sorts of things aren’t really within the city purview. We’ve had to take them on because nobody else has.”

He said a stable source of state funding would give the city a way to keep providing services once federal Covid money runs out.

Patty Mulvihill, interim executive director of the League of Oregon Cities, said Salem wasn’t included in the group’s task force because they sought a stable group of mayors from around the state who could help develop a proposal in 2022 and advocate for it during the 2023 legislative session.

With former Mayor Chuck Bennett finishing his last term in office, Mulvihill said the League opted to include other mid-sized cities including Eugene and Medford in the group.

Two other mayors from the MId-Willamette Valley are included — Jim Trett of Detroit, and Beth Wytoski of Dayton.

With a plan now created, Mulvihill said the league is reaching out to all mayors in Oregon encouraging them to ask questions and support the proposal during the 2023 legislative session.

“Mayor Hoy of Salem is well-versed in what Salem needs to properly and humanely address his city’s homelessness crisis, the Taskforce very much looks forward to working with him,” she said in an email.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.