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County officials to prioritize infrastructure, jobs, natural resources, quality of life and housing in 2019

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - County officials to prioritize infrastructure, jobs, natural resources, quality of life and housing in 2019.

Crook County officials are opening the 2019 year with a large list of priorities.

Some projects they want to pursue, like completion of the jail, are expected to reach fruition this calendar year, while others, like a construction of a second Juniper Canyon access, could take several years to see the light of day.

Crook County Judge Seth Crawford organizes the county's priorities into five primary focuses: jobs, infrastructure, natural resources, quality of life, and housing.

Perhaps the most ambitious of those five is infrastructure. While county leaders hope to focus on maintaining the quality of its roads and keeping the road department funded in the face of dwindling Secure Rural Schools dollars, they are also looking at the Juniper Canyon access and a program designed to provide the tech sector with more qualified local workers. The county is also hoping to see completion of its new jail by the end of April and complete training and start housing inmates by June.

"The top priority on infrastructure is a secondary access to Juniper Canyon," Crawford said. "We are not talking about a gravel road just to alleviate fire danger, we need to do something about the traffic that is going through town."

Crawford credited Commissioner Jerry Brummer with spearheading the project and noted that county officials have had conversations about right-of-way. Additionally, Community Development Director Ann Beier has applied for an ODOT grant to bring in someone to manage that process.

No exact route is determined, but the county is hoping to connect a road between the Crooked River Highway south of town and Lower Davis Loop.

"It is something we see over and over again that just needs to be taken care of," Crawford said, adding that the county is trying to complete as much leg work as possible so that when funding comes available, the project will be ready to launch.

To provide a more robust workforce for the Facebook and Apple data centers, Crawford said the county is working with the two companies and different building trades to "educate our students and unemployed to gain the skills to work at or building the data centers."

"These companies are going to be here for a long time and under construction for quite a while," he said, "so we really need to be working with people here locally to try and get them in a situation where they have the skills."

Meanwhile, in an effort to boost the local job market, the county hopes to work with EDCO (Economic Development for Central Oregon) and other partners to continue to expand the tech sector in Crook County.

"While we do that, we want to work to bring manufacturing to Crook County," Crawford added, noting that the search for manufacturing companies is continually ongoing.

County officials also look to recruit businesses that provide jobs locally that people currently have to commute to for work. Crawford points out that if the workforce is here, it makes sense to find them jobs in their own community.

But as the county looks to create new jobs, Crawford acknowledges that the community needs people who are qualified to fill them.

"So one of the things the county has been working with the Chamber with is reaching out to people who grew up in Crook County but had to leave to find jobs or get educated," he said.

Their message to those people? It's time to come home and work where you grew up.

"There are a lot more opportunities for jobs here today than there were even 10 years ago," he said.

Another priority, natural resources, will be addressed as the year begins by new Natural Resource Manager Tim Deboodt and an 11-member citizen-led Natural Resource Committee. County leaders plan to support the group, which has already held a couple meetings, as they engage state and federal agencies on behalf of local citizens. In addition, they will look into securing forest undergrowth and other woody biomass to support a potential mill or torrefaction facility.

Crawford noted that pilot facilities for such plants are in the works, and if they prove successful, the county would like to locate one in Crook County.

"We have so much fuel in the forest that needs to be removed," he remarked.

The county's emphasis on quality of life encompasses the addition of and improvement of recreational amenities. Crawford stresses that such upgrades not only improve the quality of life for local residents, they increase tourist appeal in Crook County and provide people who might move to the community more incentive to consider the area.

"We have a group working to put in multi-use trails on the Ochocos, just to expand the miles of trails people can use and enjoy," Crawford said.

He went on to note that the county plans to continue supporting such projects as the incoming splash pad, which county officials helped fund with $30,000 in transient lodging tax dollars, and the recently built bike park.

In addition, the county is exploring the addition of more bike trails north of the rimrock on property it owns near Facebook and the local landfill.

Housing rounds out the top five priorities. Crawford said that he has heard from a lot of people about the high cost of local housing.

"One of the things we would like to do is continue to keep our building department fully staffed to make it as quick and easy of a process as possible to build here in Crook County," he said. "I don't know if people understand how difficult it is across the state to have a fully staffed building department, just with the amount of education and people who have that education to fill those jobs."

Crawford credited County Building Official Randy Davis and Beier with effectively recruiting people who are a good fit and keep the process efficient, which he in turn believes encourages more building, increases housing inventory and helps lower local home prices.

"I think when you add any housing, that is going to open up some housing that is overpriced and could lower costs," Crawford said.

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