Jan. 12, 2019 — “Lane County is strong.”
That was the opening statement and the main message Lane County Commissioner Jay Bozievich shared with residents in the State of the County Address he delivered on Jan. 7 at Harris Hall in the Lane County Public Service Building in downtown Eugene. Bozievich is the county commissioner for District 1, western Lane County.
He began his address by highlighting some of the issues that commissioners had been successfully working on during 2018, including the overall improvement in many of the situations the county has faced during the last decade.
“Not too long ago, Lane County was dealing with the two-fold problem of the 2008 recession fallout and the end of the Secure Rural Schools Program of federal timber receipts replacement payments. We had to make a 20 percent budget cut in my first year followed by additional cuts the next two years,” he said. “At one point, the Oregon Secretary of State placed Lane County on a list of counties at risk of financial collapse.”
The commissioner went on to mention the ongoing use and modification of a strategic plan, designed to control spending, while targeting essential services for increased funding as a major element in the county’s current fiscal situation.
“It is this discipline and execution of planning that has me energized about our continued ability to meet new challenges and continually improve our services,” Bozievich said. “In writing these plans, we established a method of attacking challenges that we have repeated again and again to achieve historic accomplishments here in Lane County. Our financial staff, in consultation with our auditors and bond rating agencies, found ways to pay down our debt using one-time revenues while rebuilding reserves so that the County now enjoys the highest Moody’s bond rating in Lane County’s history.”
The consolidation of county health plans, saving significantly over previous plans, was mentioned by Bozievich as one of the commission’s main accomplishments.
“We worked together with our employees and bargaining units, based on recommendations from experts in the field, to control the rising costs of our employee health benefits,” he said. “We did this by combining over 20 health insurance programs down to just three.”
The county’s implementation of an employee wellness plan, the establishment of a community health clinic and the decision to self-insure county employees, also stood out as successes.
Bozievich’s report to residents also included updates on job creation and the county’s focus on the issue of homelessness.
“We jointly hired nationally recognized experts that interviewed local stakeholders and service providers to map our current system and to provide recommendations to make long-term improvements in eliminating unsheltered homelessness from our community,” he said. “I am proud of the efforts we have made as a community in this area and I am excited about having a conversation to develop a long-term strategic plan to provide permanent supportive housing, a low-barrier shelter, and to improve our system to the point it will eliminate the need for programs like the Egan Warming Centers.”
Another aspect of the address was the county’s participation in the successful lobbying effort to pass HB 2017, The Keep Oregon Moving Act, which allowed the county to hire an additional bridge maintenance crew.
There was also an acknowledgment in the speech of the devastating toll opioid addictions and deaths have taken on the county.
“A program was developed by our team at the clinics to use other methods of pain management from acupuncture to yoga, resulting in a 40 percent reduction in the number of opioid prescriptions issued by the Community Health Centers,” Bozievich said. “I am really excited by this program initiated and led by two of our dedicated employees to reduce the use of opioids in our Community Health Centers.”
The commissioner later expressed one major area of concern regarding the county’s need for a new, up-to-date courthouse. He stated that the county has hired national experts in courthouse design and gathered input from stakeholders to determine which agencies should be located in a new courthouse.
However, there is a way to maximize matching funds to build the new courthouse.
“It is one of the few mandated requirements of counties in Oregon to provide a courthouse and we have a unique opportunity to leverage $94 million in state matching funds,” Bozievich said. “Courts of law are the most basic of government services that provide for justice in criminal cases and the enforcement of contracts in civil cases. I am energized by the opportunity to provide a home for equal justice accessible to all here in Lane County.”
Other positive information shared on Monday included an update on restorative justice programs and the addition of 50 jail beds, bringing the total spaces that can be used for housing inmates to 367.
The adoption of a Master Park Plan and treating 32,000 low income patients at the Community Health Center featured prominently in the later remarks made by Bozievich.
Bozievich ended his address on a welcoming note.
“Finally, I want to say that I am excited to welcome two new commissioners, Joe Berney and Heather Buch, to the board. I look forward to hearing new perspectives and ideas on how to build on the great work of the last several years; about how to use the strength we have built in our staff and the trust of the citizens; and of how we can keep Lane County a great place to live, work and play!” he said.
Previous to the address, Lane County Circuit Court Presiding Judge Debra Vogt swore four officials into office, Assessor Mike Cowles, and commissioners Buch, Joe Berney and Bozievich.