In a word, the state of Clark County is “resilient,” the county’s top elected official said in an address Tuesday night.
Clark County Council Chair Eileen Quiring O’Brien delivered the annual State of the County address. In an address broadcast from the sixth-floor hearing room at the Public Service Center in Vancouver, Quiring O’Brien focused on the county’s response to COVID-19 over the past year.
“If I had to (summarize) the State of the County address in one word right now, it would be ‘resilient,’” Quiring O’Brien said.
The Republican council chair recognized the lost jobs, difficulties of remote learning and deaths as some of the effects of COVID-19. Since the virus hit in March 2020, 243 people have died in the county.
“The pandemic brought hardship to residents and local businesses,” Quiring O’Brien said. “Our community has been tested and tried over the last year.”
Quiring O’Brien thanked county elected officials and employees for “adjusting business procedures quickly and efficiently in order to continue to provide the services our constituents have come to expect.”
She mentioned Clark County Public Health’s efforts during the pandemic: case monitoring, providing more than $700,000 in assistance to hundreds of families in quarantine, distributing funds to help more nearly 700 food establishment implement safety protocols, opening the Tower Mall testing and vaccination site, vaccinating more than 1,000 people associated with adult family homes and assisted living facilities and operating a call center for vaccine questions.
Prior to the address, the Neighborhood Associations Council of Clark County presented its annual Outstanding Clark County Employee Award to Public Health Director Dr. Alan Melnick.
“While it’s a great honor for me, this was an incredible effort by a large number of folks and partners,” Melnick said. “This has been an all-out effort across the community.”
Quiring O’Brien also thanked the county Community Services department for its efforts: operating a temporary homeless shelter at the Motel 6 in east Vancouver last year; providing more than $8 million in rental assistance to more than 1,700 households; and distributing more than $1 million in grants and loans to more than 220 businesses owned by low-income people, people of color, women and veterans. The department also provided funding for homelessness programs to implement virus safety measures.
The chair referenced the budget uncertainties the county and other municipalities faced, including whether sales and property tax revenues would plummet. In response, the county reduced expenditures by implementing a hiring freeze, eliminating non-essential spending and overtime and holding some general-fund projects.
By November, the county council adopted a balanced $557 million budget for this year. The adopted spending plan was $11 million more than the one approved for the previous year.
Quiring O’Brien also mentioned initial struggles between the county and state coordinating vaccine distribution. The county’s vaccine allocation initially lagged behind the rest of the state, for instance.
As of Saturday, more than 78,000 of the county’s roughly 490,000 residents had been vaccinated, according to the county website.
“Unfortunately there was a communication and distribution problem with the state, which initially created some difficulties,” Quiring O’Brien said. “But we are now moving in the right direction.”
The council chair finished with a call to support local businesses and to reach out to those in isolation.
“Our community’s resilient character ensures that we will see better days ahead for all of us,” Quiring O’Brien said. “Our community will be better because of your efforts.”