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The State of the County: growing strong

Every year, the chairperson of the Washington County Board of Commissioners has the important responsibility to report to the community on the “State of the County.” I’ve been honored to have this opportunity for the past three years. Due to the length of the formal address I delivered on April 4, I will only share a few of the highlights with you now. (A complete transcript is available on the county’s website, co.washington.or.us.)

In 2012 the board grappled with a diverse array of challenges including, among many others: funding the development of North Bethany, continued redevelopment of the fairgrounds, programs to end homelessness, urban and rural reserves, some complex issues around food waste composting and balancing the budget with diminished revenues.

I am pleased to report that since the last State of the County address, private sector employers in Washington County have been busy adding nearly 4,000 new jobs to help lead Oregon's economic recovery. There are now more than 250,000 adults working in Washington County, marking the highest employment level since June 2008. Most of us know that Washington County is one of Oregon’s highest performing economic engines. What many don’t realize is that the primary fuel for this engine is water. A secure, clean and reliable water source is vitally important not only for health and daily living, but is also key to our agricultural base and high-tech industries. For the last decade, multiple agencies in the county have been working together to maintain a long-term water supply. The focus has been on the expansion of Scoggins Dam and Hagg Lake, a Bureau of Reclamation facility south of Forest Grove. Those outside our county are always surprised to learn that water from Hagg Lake supports nearly 250,000 jobs, provides drinking water for more than 400,000 residents, irrigates 17,000 acres of cropland and sustains water quality in the Tualatin River to protect fish and wildlife habitat.

In October 2012 the Bureau of Reclamation issued a report regarding seismic upgrades that are needed to fortify Scoggins Dam. This brings new challenges in terms of the most cost-effective way to complete these requirements in a timely manner, while ensuring water needs are met. Some Washington County water agencies have identified expansion of the Willamette River Water Treatment Plant at Wilsonville as a feasible option to partially meet the area’s long-term needs within a better time frame. Although this Willamette River option holds great promise, it is not a replacement for the Scoggins Dam/Hagg Lake project.

Hagg Lake is the only facility that can provide water sufficient to meet our existing needs and is also a viable option for addressing the longer-term needs. Expect to learn more about the next steps in this process later in the year.

The next topic I’d like to focus on is health care. Washington County is deeply involved in Oregon’s crucial efforts to “bend the health care cost curve” by changing the way doctors and hospitals get paid to deliver publicly financed physical, mental and dental health care. The “Oregon Plan” has been designed to serve as a lower-cost service delivery model for 600,000 members of the Oregon Health Plan.

The plan has divided the state into 15 Coordinated Care Organizations (CCOs), each with a fixed Medicaid budget. The focus is on prevention and other cost-effective efforts that keep patients on their medications and in close touch with their providers. Washington, Multnomah and Clackamas counties, along with eight other health care organizations, are members of Health Share of Oregon, one of two newly created CCOs for this region. The CCO model and the Tualatin Basin Water Supply Project are both great examples of problem-solving through collaboration and seeking the common good. It is my belief that the state of our county is growing increasingly stronger, due in no small part to the commitment of public and private organizations to operate under a union of common interest. To quote 19th Century French scholar Alexis de Tocqueville, “The health of a democratic society may be measured by the quality of functions performed by private citizens.” Washington County is healthy because members of this community understand that cooperating helps us maintain the quality of life in this place we call home.

Andy Duyck is chairman of the Washington County Board of Commissioners.



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