2017 State of the County Address



As you just heard, we made over $4 million in structural adjustments to get closer to a structurally balanced budget. We plan to finish closing the gap between revenues and operational expenses the upcoming fiscal year.

A large factor in our success to date is our ability to reduce and control our internal costs. For example, we are entering the second year with no increase in healthcare costs, which is largely unheard of for organizations of our size.

 

We are able to do this thanks to moving to a self-funded insurance program, moving employees to plans that include cost sharing, and opening the Live Well Center to help provide quality healthcare for employees and their families while controlling the costs for routine doctor’s office visits.

 

We are actively reducing our debt burden and interest rate costs to taxpayers by using one-time funds to prepay existing debt.

 

We have also saved an estimated $750,000 county-wide over the last 12 months by carefully reviewing vacancies before hiring and offering a cost-saving voluntary separation incentive to qualifying employees. We did this while maintaining quality services across our departments.

 

We have extended the replacement schedule for our fleet vehicles and are currently working to reduce the overall size of our fleet to ensure the appropriate balance of infrastructure and service levels.

 

We began using our existing legal staff to handle all litigation, saving $1.2 million in market-rate legal fees.

 

We continue to improve safety programs and work to keep our workers’ compensation costs low – saving more than $640,000.

 

This work to put our house in order is especially important because so much of our funding is outside of our control.

 

For example, we returned this year to receiving a portion of actual timber harvest revenue, which represents a 91 percent reduction or loss of nearly $35 million per year in federal forest receipts since 2000. That’s funding that we no longer have for public safety, roads and local schools.

 

Despite these challenges, the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office removed Lane County from its list of counties to monitor in regard to financial health and we are currently being considered for a general obligation bond rating upgrade by Moody’s – which provides independent evaluations of credit risk and ratings and is used worldwide.

 

While we made reductions last year, we also managed to make strategic investments in critical public safety services. These investments were carefully chosen to help strengthen the system as a whole – from our ability to jail and prosecute criminals, to our ability to supervise post-release and provide mental health interventions.

 

As you heard from our Sheriff, we continue to exceed the promise made to voters for the jail levy. The Sheriff’s Office also returned to 24-hour patrol for the first time in years.

We added two new positions in the District Attorney’s Office. With that investment we reduced the number of crimes not prosecuted due to lack of resources from 1800 in 2015 to just 74 in 2016. That’s a 96 percent reduction in just one year! In addition, the higher number of cases prosecuted will help increase our state funding for the District Attorney’s Office in future years.

 

In Parole and Probation, our officers handle nearly double the number of high-risk offenders compared to similar counties. The addition of a new officer to work with high-risk and repeat offenders in the jail provided some much needed support to the division.

We also recognize that those with mental health issues often need a solution outside of prosecution and imprisonment in order to break the cycle of costly visits to the emergency room and jail.

 

This spring, Lane County funded the opening of a 24-hour crisis center, Hourglass, which is operated by Columbia Care. The center has already served more than 1,000 people in need of short-term mental health crisis stabilization and referral services.

We also added three mental health positions in the jail to work directly with offenders who may need treatment and referrals in order to break the cycle of incarceration.

 

Last year also marked the second year of our current strategic plan. I am proud to report that we accomplished many things that help us work toward our vision of Lane County as the best county in which to live, work and play.

 

Our three priority areas are a safe, healthy county; vibrant communities; and infrastructure.

 

While public safety is a large component of creating a safe, healthy county, it is not the only one.

 

Our Public Health staff worked tirelessly with community members and partners such as United Way, PeaceHealth, Trillium and more to update our Community Health Improvement Plan. The CHIP, as it’s called, is a regional outline to guide how we work together to improve our community’s mental, physical, and social health.

We advocated for funding from the Legislature to open a youth respite center at our Serbu Campus. Looking Glass is operating the center, which assists foster kids and families during difficult times. It is one of only a few facilities of its kind in Oregon.

 

The Lane County Poverty and Homelessness Board – which is a working partnership among the County, the City of Eugene, the City of Springfield, the Housing and Community Services Agency, Sponsors, St. Vincent de Paul and others – continued its work to provide resources to the most vulnerable members of our community.

 

We celebrated completing our 2015 goal of housing more than 400 veterans and County and Eugene representatives were invited to a White House summit to discuss similar strategies this fall.

 

We provided funding to help support The Oaks at 14th, a 54-unit apartment complex that will provide affordable, permanent housing for people with criminal histories who face significant barriers to securing housing after incarceration. The complex is expected to open in 2017 and will have two Lane County parole and probation officers permanently stationed there.

 

The Board approved the third of four milestones needed for HACSA to develop more than 30 units of low-income housing on County-owned downtown property.

In West Lane County, we worked closely with a group of residents to evaluate the possibility of a Fern Ridge Community Policing District to fund enhanced law enforcement services in that area. While the Board ultimately declined to place the policing district on the ballot in 2016 after hearing feedback from the wider Fern Ridge community, the process led to a valuable community discussion about public safety.

 

And, in order to better support those who risk everything to keep us safe, the Board unanimously voted to provide a real property tax exemption through Senate Bill 1513 to surviving spouses of emergency personnel killed in the line of duty.

 

Vibrant communities that provide economic opportunity to all are key to the wellbeing of our communities, from individuals and families to the largest agencies and businesses.

Our economic development efforts are geared toward supporting and enhancing that opportunity from Florence to the McKenzie and Oakridge areas.

 

The Rural Prosperity Initiative is an exciting new approach to supporting the diverse and unique needs in each of our small communities. We also continue to focus on job creation through business investments and expansion. Our partnerships with chambers of commerce, cities and organizations such as Greater Eugene, Inc., RAIN and Fertilab help us support local businesses and attract new opportunities to Lane County.

 

Last year, we worked with the City of Eugene to extend the West Eugene Enterprise Zone program, which provides valuable tools for economic development. We also supported the efforts of Coburg and Springfield to expand their urban growth boundaries so they can grow along with the needs of their residents and businesses.

In our Land Management Division, we have increased our capacity to process applications as the need for permits and other services increases. We will be continuing to establish a strategic plan for Land Management in order to continue responding to growth in our community and local economy.

 

Vibrant communities must also be welcoming to all.

 

 

Our renewed commitment to equity and access, both inside our organization and out in our community, led to continued improvements, including the establishment of and recruitment for the new Equity and Access Advisory Board, which is comprised of local residents. The group will hold its first formal meeting on February first.

 

This October, a record number of staff attended our Fall Equity Summit. A sign that we are increasingly understanding of the need to provide services in a welcoming, culturally appropriate manner to all of our community members.

 

I am proud to say that it isn’t just Lane County that has placed a high priority on welcoming communities. Nine Lane County mayors and many local agencies and non-profits joined us in signing a statement of unity that commits us to, among other things, building strong communities that promote kindness, compassion and respect.

 

In 2017, I expect to see us put those commitments into action and further our understanding and work toward creating equity for all those we serve.

 

I also expect to see us continue improving our accessibility, transparency and openness. In 2016, we launched an improved website that offers better, easier access to information; we held open houses on several subjects to gather community feedback; and we reached out to rural communities and hosted meetings in Oakridge and the Fern Ridge area.

 

Our third priority area, infrastructure, provides – quite literally – the foundation on which we rely to support our other efforts.

 

Lane County maintains 1,440 miles of roads, more than 400 bridges, 70 parks, 15 waste transfer stations and the county’s only public landfill.

 

Our roads and bridges alone represent more than $6 billion in assets – maintaining that infrastructure is a challenge even with adequate funding; however, our Road Fund has been hard hit by the reduction in federal forest receipts – making large-scale investments in maintenance and improvements difficult.

 

Our staff has done a wonderful job of forging partnerships and using innovative solutions to increase our ability to invest in our roads, bridges, parks and waste system. The Vegetation Management Plan and Parks Master Plan processes mentioned in the video are wonderful examples of working with our community to set priorities and create practices that balance community vision with the need for services.

 

The process we underwent to balance our Waste Management budget this year involved feedback from hundreds of community members across Lane County. That feedback allowed us to find a solution that ensured the system, which receives no tax funds, could move into the black while minimizing changes to the services that our community told us were most critical, including keeping all but one of our rural transfer stations open.

We also further cemented our partnerships with Oregon State Parks and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife by taking over the operation of two parks in West Lane County: Archie Knowles, which we reopened, and Konnie Memorial Park.

 

We entered into a lease agreement for the long-shuttered Forest Work Camp with a local non-profit called Veterans Legacy. Now that piece of infrastructure can be used to provide services to our veterans instead of standing empty.

 

Most recently, we saw our hard work to establish partnerships, emergency procedures and new tools like the Weather Event Response Coordination System (WERCS) put to the test during an ice storm.

 

Our crews responded to more than 500 incidents of downed trees, branches, landslides and flooding in a matter of days. While the cleanup efforts will continue for many weeks to come, I would like to recognize the incredible efforts of our Roads and Public Works employees, our Emergency Manager and Sheriff’s Office deputies and staff, as well as our Facilities staff. They worked tirelessly with our city and utility partners to restore lanes of travel across our area.

 

We are lucky to have dedicated and talented staff in all of our departments and divisions. I wish we could take the time today to recognize them all. Even though that isn’t possible, I would like to recognize one staff member who is in the audience today.

He is an example of the exceptional people we have in Lane County who don’t only work for a paycheck, but who work because they want to serve their community.

He has spearheaded efforts to design and use technology in order to increase our ability to efficiently maintain our 1,440 miles of roads with minimal staff and limited resources. He embraced the WERCS system and partnered with our Geographical Information Services staff to develop a real-time tracking tool that his staff are implementing in a variety of ways.

 

He led a successful effort to create a new Vegetation Management Plan that advocates and organizations on both sides of the issue supported. The adopted plan allows Lane County to use limited herbicides to control invasive and difficult-to-manage vegetation along our roadways. This is a considerable victory in a process that – just a few years ago – was referred to as a war by our local paper.

 

And, finally, despite significant damage to his own home and vehicles during last month’s ice storm, he worked around the clock for nearly two days in order to ensure others could access their homes and that emergency vehicles had access to residents on County roads. He put the safety and needs of the community and of his staff before his own in a demonstration of the type of leadership we have in Lane County – without expectation for recognition.

 

Please join me in recognizing our Roads manager, Orin Schumacher.

 

Infrastructure also includes the organizational policies and practices that guide how we provide services.

 

This year, our performance auditor released two reports evaluating our effectiveness and efficiency. The first was an overview of the County’s financial position; the second was a look at our behavioral health programs.

 

The financial report found that we are managing our limited finances well in spite of our challenges.

 

The behavioral health report found that we have made several improvements in recent years, including the crisis center I mentioned earlier. It also found that we must continue to improve our ability to provide intensive case management so we can provide a truly comprehensive safety net for patients and families.

 

In 2017, we must continue this momentum.

 

We also have several large initiatives in front of us.

 

One of those initiatives is the continued collaboration with the City of Eugene to identify and procure a site for the new courthouse.

 

Last month, after exhaustive study of three possible location scenarios, the Board unanimously decided to pursue the purchase of the City-owned lot where the former City Hall was located as the site for a stand-alone courthouse.

 

On the same day, Eugene City Council decided to pursue the purchase of the County-owned Butterfly Lot as the site for City Hall. We will be outlining a process to appraise both properties and determine the negotiation process this month.

 

We appreciate the City’s partnership over the last several months. The opportunity to work together to find a solution that best serves our community and helps promote continued growth in downtown Eugene is one that doesn’t come along often. Together, we can foster vibrancy and growth downtown, as well as opportunities to make efficient use of public resources.

 

A second large initiative is the newly announced Operation 600. We are embarking, along with our Poverty and Homelessness Board partners, on a four-year effort to create 600 Housing First units to get 600 people and families off the streets and into housing. We know that stable housing opens the door for people to make improvements in their physical, mental, social and financial health that simply aren’t possible when they don’t have a place to live and are on the streets or relying on shelter programs.

We are starting that effort by evaluating two County-owned properties as possible locations for construction: near our Behavioral Health campus on Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard and alongside the Lane County Fairgrounds.

 

It is my sincere hope that our partners and others in our community join us in supporting that effort. It may seem like a tall order in four years, but it is absolutely possible and it is absolutely critical that we succeed.

 

I hope that, in this sampling of highlights from 2016, you have found something to celebrate. I also hope that you are as excited as we are about the work ahead of us.

 

We intend to close our structural imbalance this year and create long-term stability for our programs and services. We intend to continue looking for innovative ways to control our internal costs while advocating at the state and federal levels for the resources we need to provide the level of services our community should have. We also intend to make smart investments in the services and systems that make our community safer, healthier and more vibrant.

 

I would like to end by offering thanks.

 

Thanks to my colleagues and fellow Lane County elected officials for their continued leadership and dedication to making Lane County an incredible place.

 

Thanks to our staff for their tireless work to provide excellent services to those we serve, regardless of our challenges. You make us all Lane County proud.

 

Thanks to our community partners for their passion and innovation when it comes to working together to provide services, solutions and support to our community.

 

Thanks to our community members who are, each and every one, the reason we continuously work to improve our services and who make this a community the special place that it is.

 

And, finally, thanks to all of you here today. Aware and involved community members and partners are vital if we hope to continue our progress toward stability and prioritizing investments in critical services.

 

Thank you.