This is the second in a series of special reports you’ll read only here online and in the Wednesday print editions of The Chronicle in the weeks ahead providing insight from members of our community into what we might expect in 2021.
The following report focuses on a viewpoint from Columbia County.
On the first county commission meeting of the year Wednesday, Jan. 6, Margaret Magruder was voted the new chair of the commission. She was reelected to serve a second term in November and is joined on the council by Henry Heimuller and Casey Garrett.
Magruder said she is hopeful that 2021 will bring a return to normalcy to the lives of county residents.
“Hopefully the coming year will see COVID-19 cases diminish and a successful vaccination program implemented so citizens can get back to work, restaurants gyms, bowling alleys and other types of closed businesses can open and students can get back to school,” she said.
The county public health department is busy coordinating vaccination and testing programs for the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.
The effect of the pandemic and associated restrictions and safety guidelines have disrupted the normal procedures for county business.
“The social distancing requirements of the pandemic made us even more aware of the need to expand our working space for the safety and convenience of our employees and the public,” Magruder said. That awareness led the county to lease the John Gumm School building to house the public health department and create a new meeting space for the Board of Commission and other committee meetings. The meeting space will allow for improved audio and visual functions as well as updated virtual meeting tools, she said.
The need for reliable broadband service has become clear over 2020 when schools starting online learning and people began to work from home. She said the county had intended to make progress on addressing the broadband needs following a broadband study in 2018-19 but the project was stalled.
“My personal home connection does not allow me to successfully participate in virtual meetings from my home computer, so I am well aware of the need,” Magruder said.
The county is working with Clatsop and Tillamook counties and the Columbia-Pacific Economic Development District to pave a path forward to address the broadband needs for residents in the area, she said.
Over the last year, three department heads at the county have retired or moved to different positions and the county is in the process of interviewing candidates to fill the positions, she said. Filling those positions is one of the immediate projects ahead for the commissioners, another is resuming a road project that the pandemic disrupted.
“There are a number of roads in the county that we discovered had not been dedicated to the county, however they have been used and maintained as county roads since their creation,” she said. The majority of the roads are on the drainage district levees and the next step for the project will require obtaining easements and surveys, she said.
The CZ Trail project and other improvements to county parks will be addressed as well, she said. Also ahead is a review of the county’s strategic plan, which staff has been developing and refining over the past three years.
“These efforts have been on hold this year, however we will renew these discussions to further define our priorities,” she said. “Service, engagement, connection and innovation are the guiding principles of our plan.”
Magruder’s individual priorities include economic development, highest and best use of natural resources, she said.
Magruder lives in Clatskanie and is a lifelong resident of Columbia County.