State of Lane County: 2021 gave 'tangible cause for hope' as officials shift to recovery mode

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Lane County Commissioner Joe Berney, center, gives the annual State of the Country address virtually from Harris Hall in Eugene flanked by commissioners Pat Farr, left, Laurie Trieger and Heather Buch, right, on Monday, Jan. 10, 2022.
Lane County Commissioner Joe Berney, center, gives the annual State of the Country address virtually from Harris Hall in Eugene flanked by commissioners Pat Farr, left, Laurie Trieger and Heather Buch, right, on Monday, Jan. 10, 2022.

Lane County isn’t “out of the woods” yet, but 2021 gave “tangible cause (for) hope” moving into the new year, Commissioner Joe Berney said.

The county went from “being caught in an unanticipated global pandemic to delivering,” Berney said during the annual “State of the County” address, which he delivered virtually as the omicron variant of the coronavirus hits hard.

County staff delivered vaccines and support to businesses, tenants and landlords, he said, and saw “re-openings across the board” while helping with rebuilding from the Holiday Farm Fire.

“We moved from having been hit without warning by twin crises and now (are) solidly in recovery mode,” Berney said. “And big investments are being made on key fronts.”

County residents have coped during “perfect storm-like challenges,” he said, and shown fiber, grit, perseverance and hope while experiencing victories small and large.

He encouraged people to band together as the county advances from crisis to opportunity and “to move with the will to succeed, with tolerance and with goodwill and compassion to all.”

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'Strange, difficult, exhausting and trying times'

The pandemic has brought “strange, difficult, exhausting and trying times,” Berney said.

It’s shown the best in people through “selfless acts of compassion,” he said, but it’s also meant seeing “frustration fuel incivility and anger by a vocal minority, misdirected to those just trying their hardest to do their best under unbelievably challenging times.”

Read some of the latest updates on the pandemic

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Everyone is COVID-fatigued, Berney said, but the “essence of character and determination” is to not give up and work hard to “find hope and opportunity in difficult and turbulent waters.”

While some have used the anxiety everyone is facing to “fuel their own, sometimes divisive, agendas” from different political extremes, he said, everyone is still facing the pandemic together.

Lane County Commissioner Joe Berney gives the annual State of the Country address virtually from Harris Hall in Eugene on Monday, Jan. 10, 2022.
Lane County Commissioner Joe Berney gives the annual State of the Country address virtually from Harris Hall in Eugene on Monday, Jan. 10, 2022.

“We’ve had children to raise, businesses to run, vulnerable among us to support, families to care for and life to resume,” Berney said. “This has required a special combination of individual responsibility and organizational transformation supported with direct service from our County government.”

It’s the job of nonpartisan governments like Lane County “not to be distracted by noise” and instead focus on solutions, he said, and “results that make life as good as possible for as many as possible.”

People 'deserve and have our heartfelt gratitude'

Throughout the pandemic, Berney has consistently remembered a quote from Winston Churchill: “If you’re going through hell, keep on going.”

County officials and staff have done exactly that, he said, bouncing back and overcoming adversity by “working with coalitions and individuals putting action and healing above words and divisiveness.”

That’s made all the difference, he said.

“Now, we’re able to move from being overwhelmed and reacting to crises to getting ahead of them, preventing or mitigating or somewhat controlling them and our own destiny,” Berney said. “And by so doing, we are now in a position to be creating personal and economic stability and opportunity.”

Berney expressed gratitude for the work people did to get the county to that point, including:

  • Front-line health care workers who worked “long and beyond exhausting hours to keep us safe”

  • County workers in clinics and treatment centers working with people without shelter who have gotten sick

  • Nurses, doctors and professionals at local hospital and private medical groups, clinics and pharmacies

  • County human service workers who helped with rent relief and prevented 4,500 households from eviction

  • County behavioral service workers who have make 51,000 visits since the start of the pandemic

  • County workforce staff for helping 4,000 residents get work or stay working

  • Youth service workers for maintaining safety protocols and avoiding outbreaks in detention facilities

  • Parole and probation officers who “dealt with an influx of prison commutation releases” and 100 extra parolee releases

  • Lane County Sheriff’s Office and jail workers for providing close to 8,000 COVID-19 tests and 450 vaccines to adults in custody

  • County incident command for leading efforts to deliver more than 200,000 vaccinations

  • Unsung heroes who “have worked every day to keep our communities safe”

“The list goes on and on,” Berney said. “You all, individually, deserve and have our heartfelt gratitude and appreciation.”

Officials transforming role of government

In 2021, county government played a role in the lives of many, Berney said, including through efforts to facilitate more than $8 million in business relief, $33 million in rent relief and $22 million for rebuilding from the Holiday Farm Fire.

The county used outside dollars not just to respond to needs, he said, but also to re-circulate money through the economy.

From business re-opening to new businesses locating in Lane County to developments breaking ground to the University of Oregon’s record freshman class, it’s “impossible not to notice the growth and building taking place,” Berney said.

And there’s more to come, he said, like action by county government to decrease its carbon footprint.

The county is developing partnerships now to put sewer and water infrastructure between Springfield and the Short Mountain to transform it from “just a landfill to a recycling and waste-to-energy hub,” Berney said.

County officials also are committed to providing “broadband for every part of this county,” he said, and increasing telehealth options while also adding more county-operated clinics.

“Affordable, accessible broadband. Affordable, accessible health care,” Berney said. “Those are big deals. We’re moving in that direction, aggressively.”

Related: USDA grant will support better rural internet access in Lane County's Triangle Lake area

Officials are transforming the role of county government through actions, he said, not just through words and are “determined to confront problems head on, adapt to new realities and move forward in 2022 and beyond.”

Berney asked county residents to “take heart and re-commit to reach other united not divided, focusing on mutual respect, responsibilities and results, not ideology or partisanship or rhetoric.”

Contact city government watchdog Megan Banta at mbanta@registerguard.com. Follow her on Twitter @MeganBanta_1.

Watch the full address

Watch the speech, including a video on what happened in 2021, at bit.ly/lc-sotc-2022.

The (mostly) full text as delivered is available at bit.ly/lc-sotc-2022-text.

This article originally appeared on Register-Guard: County moving from 'twin crises' to recovery mode, big investments

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