For those of you who aren’t as into rock music as I am, the song that started this speech may not be as familiar to you as it is to me. As a drummer in several bands in my younger years, I’ve often admired the elegance of music. Music has the power to transport us to a different time and change our mood. It also has the power to motivate and set a theme. For me, music has been a big part of my life and a powerful force, which is why I decided to bring in music to this celebration.
The song that played is by Van Halen and sung by Sammy Hagar. The song, "Right Now" is more of an anthem than a typical song. For me, in thinking about the State of the County this year, I was moved by the thought of RIGHT NOW.
As a County, we are in a place of great transition and positive change. Our state is slowly but steadily moving out of the recession. We are creating jobs right here in Lane County. We are looking to new ways to fund our critical services, like our public safety system. We are changing leadership at the highest levels such as our County Assessor and our Administrator. For me, the State of the County speech is a time to look back over the past year to remember our successes and challenges with an eye towards the lessons we learned so we will be more effective in the future. But with all of that, I still believe we have to focus on the right now if we are going to move to this more positive and promising future.
2013 was a time of change and transition for Lane County. We had our successes but we also had our disappointments. We were in the news more than we would have liked in 2013. (pause) The stories are memorable and sensational, but they aren’t the true story of Lane County and the hardworking employees who come to work rain, shine or even in a foot of snow and ice. Our employees provide vital services to our communities. They are dedicated and strive to provide the most efficient results in the wake of devastating budget cuts. The true stories of our people and our County are the stories that don’t get told on the front pages of the paper. So while I’m here today, I’d like to mention some of the great work that was done in 2013 and touch on what we, as leadership, will be focusing on in 2014. It won’t be sensational but it will be upbeat.
One of our greatest accomplishments this year was the passage of the Public Safety levy. I cannot express enough how much the trust from the public through their vote, meant to our sheriff, our public safety officers and the board of county commissioners. As many of you may know, our county had put out a call to help fund the public safety system 13 times over 20 years, This time, Lane County put forward a plan with restrictions and a focus on jail beds and youth offenders. We also promised a regular audit of the monies. The voters came back with a resounding vote of 57% in favor of the measure. I would like to personally thank Sherriff Tom Turner and his team for their tireless work. If there was a meeting any where in the County, Sherriff Turner was there advocating on behalf of this measure. His efforts paid off.
In the six months prior to the measure’s passage and implementation, more than 2,500 offenders were released because the jail didn’t have the capacity to hold them. Many were in the jail for violent, Measure 11 felonies. In the six months since the measure’s implementation, this number has fallen to 830 capacity based releases. No offenders in custody for Measure 11 felonies have been released because of overcrowding. With the passage of the bond measure, our community is a safer place.
At Lane County, our goal is for community members to feel pride and trust in their local government and come to expect consistent, exceptional service. The County Commissioners voted UNANIMOUSLY to change our county administrator and replace her with Alicia Hays.
Interim administrator Hays has made some very positive changes in the organization. We have initiated a recruitment process for a new county administrator and expect to have that person hired early this year.
Our public works department deserves some much-deserved appreciation. Their round-the-clock attention to the roads during our early December snowstorm was nothing short of amazing. That was a very public show of their work but, honestly, they do work like that all the time. One of these stories is the statewide ‘Project of the Year’ award given to Lane County’s public works department by the Oregon Chapter of the American Public Works Association. This project started out as a replacement of a failing retaining wall originally built in 1970 on Sweet Creek Road. This road is the only access in and out for 68 residents and is a major recreation corridor for accessing waterfalls and hunting and fishing locations. The retaining wall was in need of replacement to ensure Sweet Creek Road didn’t, literally, fall into the Siuslaw River. But, instead of just looking to a short-term fix, our public works department went the extra mile to innovate and ended up with a better long-term solution – a bridge that came in under budget and ahead of schedule. The award recognizes excellence, innovation and cooperation with regard to management and administration of public works projects. And this is just one of our many stories. Public Works deserves a great deal of thanks and appreciation for all they do to make this County run smoothly and efficiently.
We are seeing the results of the recovery from the recession in Oregon and Lane County. One sign of this is a drop in our unemployment rate to 7.2% in Lane County. This is the lowest rate since 2008. We are also seeing resurgence in economic development in Lane County. Our Economic Development department has had a lot to do with this attention. One example of this is First Call Resolution, a call center based in Roseburg. First Call Resolution provides a wide range of boutique, domestic-based outsourced contact center, business process and social networking support solutions to most industries. When this Oregon-based company was looking to expand, we wanted to bring them to rural Lane County. They originally were looking in Cottage Grove, but when that location turned out to not be a fit, our team worked diligently to come up with another solution for them right here. After much work, we were able to find them just the right solution in Veneta. Now to be clear, they are bringing 180 family-wage jobs to a community with a population of only 4,600 people. This is a significant economic development win for Lane County.
We are aggressively looking to attract and retain other companies in our core areas of economic strength such as Education Technology, Food and Beverage Processing and Manufacturing. Food processing and manufacturing are areas of great economic growth. Lane County is home to So Delicious and Johnson Crushers, two examples of companies leading the way in their respective industries located just minutes from here. Lane County is primed to be in a position to help these companies expand and grow.
This year, Lane County, the Cities of Springfield and Eugene and their respective Chambers, as well as the University of Oregon convened an economic summit. We brought in local businesses that are nationally known to talk about our areas of expertise in specialized manufacturing, Education Technology, and Food and Beverage production. The two-day summit brought together business leaders and heads of critical services to discuss what is next for Lane County’s economy. We are joining together to reimagine and innovate how we look at economic development moving forward. The effort, called ‘The Big Look’, will establish how we continue our positive direction of success with economic development through the next few years. This is a very positive step for our area and one I wholeheartedly support.
Our Health and Human Services department has made some significant changes in 2013. The organization consolidated several of the departments to create efficiencies and provide service improvements. A new electronic health records system is more efficiently and effectively serving our patients across our multiple clinics. Our health department was a key leader in the Coordinated Care Organization that is at the forefront of healthcare innovation in Oregon. Our Youth Services division has doubled the capacity for residential drug and alcohol treatment, helping kids kick bad habits and rebuild their lives. We have installed and implemented a new billing system to ensure our services are getting billed appropriately and we have made adjustments to our system to ensure we aremproperly staffed for the needs of our community. But the story I want to tell you is the story of our public health officer, Dr. Pat Luedtke. Dr. Luedtke came to us almost three years ago from Salt Lake City. His leadership and community outreach on behalf of improving the public health is nothing short of astounding. But more than that, he is also a thoughtful and concerned doctor, who does personal outreach to members of the community who are homeless. He regularly visits the homeless camps in our community to visit with the sick and underrepresented to ensure they understand the healthcare options available to them. These are the stories of the people of Lane County Government. The stories that make me proud to be a County Commissioner in this great place that I call home
As we look forward, as your leaders we will be focused on the vital services of the County. We are focused on what our citizens need RIGHT NOW from their elected leaders. We are focused on creating a safe community. We know that our public safety system is still broken even with the public safety levy. We are working towards a 10-year-plan for public safety with the leadership of our sheriff and district attorney. We should have more to announce early in 2014.
We are focused on creating jobs and developing a positive economic future for our community. We are focused on assisting our federal partners to come up with a long term federal forest management plan. My wife Debbie and I have two sons and we understand what it means for them to be able to have good, family wage jobs that ensure they can stay here in this community. I know what it means to watch our best and brightest students move away to get good jobs. It was a focus when I was the mayor in Springfield and it continues to be as a County Commissioner today.
Finally, I want to thank my fellow commissioners Sorenson, Bozevich, Farr and Stewart for their hard work and attention to the needs of the citizens of Lane County. I appreciate what each of you brings to the discussion every day and I thank you for your service.
As I leave you, I would like to quote one line from the song that I started this State of the County speech with today:
“Catch that magic moment, do it
Right here and now
It means everything
It's enlightened me, right now
What are you waitin for”