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County needs more water, better roads and 911 upgrade

A mental health urgent care center is also on Andy Duyck's list of priorities

COURTESY WESTSIDE ECONOMIC ALLIANCE - Washington County Chair Andy Duyck delivered his annual State of the County speech on the Intel campus in Hillsboro on Thursday.Washington County Commission Chairman Andy Duyck says the county can build on its economic and government successes in the past year to improve public works and social services.

Duyck’s goals include increasing water supplies, improving roads, passing a bond measure to upgrade the emergency radio communications system, and creating an urgent care center for mental health.

“We have much to celebrate here in Washington County,” Duyck said Thursday, March 31, at the annual state of the county address. “We have accomplished a lot in the past year, and we are well-positioned to take on the challenges that we will face in the year ahead.”

His speech was at a breakfast sponsored by the Westside Economic Alliance at the Ronler Acres campus of Intel, the county’s largest property taxpayer and Oregon’s largest private employer with 19,500 workers.

Most of Duyck’s speech concerned the successful economic development efforts his county has made to help high-tech companies such as Intel locate and grow there. Those efforts include waiving hundreds millions of dollars in property taxes on production equipment to encourage construction projects.

“Employers in Washington County continue to provide some of the most coveted jobs in our state — jobs that offer the highest wages, the best benefits, and sustain the health of our entire state,” Duyck said. “Great job opportunities attract a highly-educated, highly-skilled, and diverse work force, and continute to a vibrant and complete community.”

The growth of Intel and biotech firm Genentech have not only created high-paying jobs, but also — through the state’s Gain Share program — returned millions in income tax collections to the county. Lawmakers last year limited the county’s future Gain Share returns but also extended the program 10 years.

Voters last fall also renewed property tax levies for library and public safety services for the next five years.

During a 40-minute talk, including 10 minutes of video presentations, Duyck said the county has other issues it will pursue this year:

¦ A $77 million bond measure on the May 17 ballot to upgrade the emergency radio communications system that the county owns jointly with Clackamas County.

“Just as many of us have upgraded our own cell phones many times over these past two decades, so, too, our emergency communications system also needs upgrading.”

¦ Eventually replacing Scoggins Dam, which the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has rated atop its list of seismically vulnerable dams, and increasing water storage in Hagg Lake. Congress last year raised the bureau’s funding for dam safety and allowed it to incorporate increased storage into new projects.

“One emergency that we hope we never have to face is not having a safe and adequate supply of drinking water.”

¦ Funding for road and bridge maintenance, as well as other transportation improvements. With only modest help expected from federal sources in the next five years, Duyck said state lawmakers must act on a funding package in their 2017 session.

“Our roads and bridges need ongoing care and attention to prevent more serious problems down the road.”

¦ A new urgent care center for mental health. No site has been selected yet and funding awaits the 2016-17 budget cycle. County commissioners were briefed on progress a few weeks ago.

“The reality of mental illness can be a very lonely and frightening experience for individuals and families to have to face. Resources are available and we are hopeful that a new center will make these services available to the people who need them.”

¦ Additions to workforce training, early learning programs and affordable housing through the coalition of groups known as Washington County Thrives.

Although Washington County is economically prosperous — and by recent measurements of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Oregon’s healthiest county — it also has more than 64,000 people in households below the federal poverty level. About a third of them have some employment and another third — 21,000 — are children. Federally funded preschool programs reach only about 20 percent of the 7,000 eligible children.

Duyck acknowledged that the county cannot solve any of these issues on its own.

“Our hope is to do more together to address these three community priorities than any one of us could accomplish on our own.”

Jim Redden contributed to this story.