Human Services deserve our attention too
by Bruce Bartlett, chair, CPO 1
Land use issues (new developments, infill, transportation planning, sidewalks/lack of, etc.) overtly impact the daily lives of people, so they are the most visible county services to the largest number of people. Oregon’s land use laws are built on a set of Goals, and Goal #1 dictates that citizens will have a way to be involved in land use issues. From this initial mandate, the county’s Citizen Participation Organization (CPO) program was born—as a result there is considerable awareness of our individual and collective ability to be a part of the land use process.
While I am definitely a “land use geek,” I have a larger abiding interest in the work of our Health & Human Services (HHS - www.co.washington.or.us/HHS) department which provides for the care of citizens who truly need help (services to the aged, veterans, people with physical and mental disabilities, public health services, animal services and much more). The county’s 2009-2010 budget has recently been approved and I had a look at it. It was striking to find that the amount of money spent on human services is five times (~$20 million) larger than the amount spent on land use support services (~$4 million, not counting capital projects). Public Safety (Sheriff, Jail/Community Corrections, Courts/DAs) consumes 15 times as much money as land use (~$60 million). Land Use is the smallest component of the budget.
The state is mandated to fund the county’s HHS budget with state-shared revenue and passed-through federal funding. Virtually no taxes collected in the county pay for human services. As responsible stewards, the county’s policy has been to not “backfill” funding for human services. This means that identified needs will go unmet unless the state pays. As I testified recently to the county Commissioners, whether this policy will be able to pass a serious “Compassion Test” remains to be seen. Washington County has done exemplary work in crafting a very cost-effective system of providing essential human services. I have personally seen. the system evolve over the last 15 years and I am proud to have been involved with it.
The process to approve Oregon State’s budget for the next biennium has roared to its awkward finale. Through a myriad of negotiations and “jiggerings” plus the critical Federal Stimulus money, there have not yet been huge cuts in all budgets. However, the state’s revenue-raising proposals (read: taxes) are likely to be referred to voters in November. If the voters turn down the revenue proposals, or when the stimulus money runs out, monstrous cuts will have to be made to human services.
It saddens me that these cuts will not attract anywhere near the attention that land use matters will. Each dollar spent on human services has a person’s face connected to it. Unfortunately these faces can be invisible and they are all too easy to ignore. I find myself wishing Oregon had another Goal #1 that encouraged citizens to be involved in the advocacy of our precious human services, not just land use.