State of the County
Fellow commissioners, Lane County employees, members of the media, distinguished guests and people of Lane County; in the preparation and delivery of this address, I was charged with shedding light on the current state of our county. I decided that in giving you this perspective, I needed to let you know not only how we’ve acted in present but also what we’ve learnt from the past, and where our planning will take us in the future.
Learning from the past.
Coming in to 2012, we, as a community, were faced with an uncertain future. We continued to see the local effects of a national recession; the need for reform was more evident than ever; and with impending countywide budget cuts, we had to find ways to curtail spending while inventing new creative revenue sources. When looking at how to deal with these hurdles, we were faced with three options. We could pursue quick fixes to complex problems, essentially kicking that tired old can down the proverbial road and delaying the inevitable. We could choose indifference and inaction, going about business as usual. Or, we could choose to let our obstacles shape us into a better version of ourselves. A version that is capable of adapting and facing these challenges not just today, but for years to come. Suffice to say, Lane County did not choose the easy way out. That’s not what we do. Nor did we choose indifference. We know, from experience, these problems aren’t going away. Ladies and gentlemen, I am happy to report that Lane County as a government, Lane County as a people and Lane County as a growing, thriving community, chose to use these hardships we were presented with to refine us, to shape us and to better us. I am happy to report to you today that Lane County has chosen to rise above, to overcome, and as a result, the Lane County you see before you is better prepared, better equipped and more poised for success than ever before.
When we talk about strength of our community, I’m reminded of last January when we experienced one of the worst floods in recent history. The people of Lane County came together - first to evacuate and rescue folks and then to put roads and homes back together. The damage was extensive and the recovery required a major effort and a lot of people. Local residents, volunteers, county employees, and local leaders came together and we persevered. Now, bare in mind this story is not the exception here in Lane County. Frankly, it’s the rule. We are a strong community. We are a caring community. But most of all, we are a community that does not back down from our challenges.
While it is true that we are resilient, our need for resilience has largely been due to insufficient planning. Timber revenue changes and the organizational structure of how to manage that revenue, has forced us to be as tough as we’ve had to be. Lane County is a place of multi-faceted resources and abundance. All we have ever needed to utilize that abundance is a clear vision.
Acting on the present.
In 2011, we created a pretty ingenious Strategic Plan, which focused on three key areas: public health, economic development and public safety. But, at the heart of this plan was an emphasis on what makes a community livable; health. The health of our people, the health of our economy and the health of our public safety system. I’m proud to say that in 2012, we began executing our plan.
In terms of the health of our people, we've taken aim at reducing both child maltreatment and fetal/infant mortality. These two factors are important indicators to the health of a community. Lane County’s work with Head Start and LaneKids has increased home visits and improved parenting education. Our Healthy Babies, Healthy Communities partners and WIC staff are focused on improving maternal and infant health. And I'm proud to report that we are leading the way in health care transformation by being one of the first counties in Oregon to successfully implement the Coordinated Care Organization model. This effort required significant collaboration between local and state government, private insurance providers, hospitals, and non-profit organizations. That we were able to accomplish this while re-organizing departmental services, opening larger community health clinics in both Eugene and Springfield, and staying abreast of fast moving and dynamic legislative guidance was nothing short of amazing. I am so proud of our staff and the countless hours they dedicated to seeing these projects through.
We also recognized the fact that our immunization rates were too low, setting us up for the threat of a communicable disease epidemic, which would result in increased healthcare cost, loss in terms of worker productivity and perhaps most importantly, our most vulnerable populations being at risk. Instead of merely informing people, our Public Health department took action, applying for a one-time grant that allowed us to set up immunization clinics and raise the rate of immunization in Lane County by 10%.
At the heart of any community’s health is its economy. Our Lane County strategic plan understood this and knew we needed to focus beyond Eugene and Springfield. To have sustainable economic development, we need to reach out and strengthen the economies in our rural communities too. To do that, we need a team of people who understand how to help all our communities. Lane County’s economic development team has been re-organized, rejuvenated and stands ready to work with our strategic partners to do business in every community in Lane County. In terms of Lane County government economics, we knew hard decisions had to be made and immediate action had to take place. We made cuts where we had to make cuts but in true Lane County form, we found ways to not only survive those cuts but also in some ways, thrive despite them. We found ways to do more with less.
Closing so many jail beds and seeing the loss of valuable members of our Sheriff’s department was heartbreaking. These cuts, however, are not etched in stone and while we continue to explore and find ways to improve the health of our public safety funding, our Sheriff’s office found ways to bridge the gap, taking aim at crime with new revitalized volunteer and neighborhood watch programs, countless community awareness meetings and with a crew of reserve deputies who are able to provide trained support to our existing law enforcement. (pause) But rest assured, the board of commissioners is aggressively looking at both short and long term solutions to our public safety challenges.
These achievements are a true testament to the passion and resilience of our county employees, the patience and optimism of our community partners and not least of all, the strength of the people of Lane County as a whole. But if history has taught us one thing, it has taught us we can’t rest on our achievements. We have to look forward, but we must also look up.
Planning for the future.
In order to achieve this growth, we have to look outside of what has worked in the past. We cannot take a passive role in economic development in our county. We not only have to be ready for economic development, we must encourage it. I won’t let this priority out of my sight, for I know first hand how the expansion of employment opportunities benefits all of us.
I also know that partnerships are an absolutely critical part of success in this arena. That means more than our staff working with the staff of other local governments. It also means providing support for those willing to risk their own investments. I can’t emphasize enough the need for government to match the risk that private individuals or corporations make.
Our ongoing work with those in the local food industry recognizes the risk environment these low-margin businesses operate within. Lane County can assist these businesses by advocating for policies that allow for development of value added processing. The state’s Department of Agriculture already recognizes the under tapped value of the Willamette Valley’s soils and beneficial climate and the missed opportunities we have for increasing the value of what we grow. Our job is to ensure Lane County’s ag businesses continue to be recognized as an important element in that work.
Back in September, after tireless work from our planners and our board, the State designated Goshen as the first Regionally Significant Industrial Area, a huge step towards furthering economic development in Lane County. This designation provides Lane County the opportunity to focus our efforts in Goshen and enable important redevelopment in this area. Redevelopment in Goshen means people won’t have to look outside of our County for new and better employment. It means a better quality of life for our citizens but most importantly, Lane County has a bright and promising economic future.
These examples are signs that we are on the right track, but if we truly want to be in charge of what Lane County looks like 5, 10 even 50 years down the road, we need to continue to explore new and creative economic and social development programs. In short, we need to make Lane County a destination where companies want to do business.
I’d like to thank each and every one of you for caring enough about the community you live in to listen and participate. We are only as good as the sum of our parts and Lane County has some pretty great parts, you’re proof of that. I would also like to thank my fellow commissioners and those working for the County who have dedicated their passion, tireless effort and long hours to getting us where we are today. Last but certainly not least; I would like to thank my family and my beautiful wife, Debbie. You are all the strength I’ll ever need.
I leave you today not with a rousing call to action that will fade into obscurity but a promise and a plea.
My promise to you is that this Lane County Government will continue to place your interest at the focus of every decision we make. We will explore every reasonable avenue available to make this county a place you WANT to live. Just like in 2012, we will continue to face our obstacles, to face our challenges, to stand up to adversity and we will come out a better, stronger and more resilient County than ever before.
My plea is that you join us on this road. I ask that you look towards tomorrow and help us make choices that will benefit you and your families. I ask that we, as a community, bind together and form a force that no economic hardship, no great recession, no fiscal cliff can take down.