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MCCOG seeks to divest by Jan. 31

The Mid-Columbia Council of Governments, which decided in August to shutter its doors, anticipates divesting itself of all its programs by Jan. 31, 2018, the MCCOG board heard last Tuesday.

One possible wrinkle is the handoff of the Area Agency on Aging (AAA).

It is a relatively small portion of the MCCOG workload but has drawn the most attention over the years because of director turnover and complaints that MCCOG was charging too much overhead, and not leaving enough money for AAA’s work, which includes helping with Meals on Wheels programs.

The state has set up a process of offering the AAA program first to the five involved counties — two of which have already said no thanks – and two “adjacent” COGs, which are in Salem and Bend (and don’t currently have AAAs).

If they say no, then it will be offered to the 10 other AAAs in Oregon.

Only if none of those entities are interested would it go to a third tier of offers, which is to other interested agencies and non-profits. But MCCOG officials are interested in just such a handoff.

Greater Oregon Behavioral Health, Inc. (GOBHI) has expressed interest in AAA, and MCCOG board member Tom McCoy, a Sherman County commissioner, said GOBHI would be a way to maintain more local control of the AAA.

But Interim MCCOG Director David Meriwether feels it will end up getting taken by another AAA first. He said a workaround would be to retain MCCOG as an entity so it could keep AAA and contract out with GOBHI.

He said if the process went to the third phase, he did not think it could be transferred by Jan. 31.

He said the key was how important it was to the MCCOG to keep local governance of AAA. He said the advisory board to the local AAA felt it was very important.

The five counties that make up MCCOG have first right of refusal on taking on AAA, but the requirement is that it cover the same five-county area AAA covers now. Both Hood River County and Wasco County have said no. Sherman, Wheeler and Gilliam counties have yet to weigh in.

MCCOG runs four main programs: transportation, which includes the LINK dial-a-ride as well as a non-emergency medical transport service; AAA, which helps with meals and other services for seniors; workforce development programs; and regional building codes services.

When he was brought on board earlier this year as interim director, Meriwether was charged with evaluating the nearly 40-year-old entity for its viability.

He reported in June that MCCOG was not well thought of and had not had good leadership, including from the board. He said the AAA program, in particular, had not been well-served by MCCOG.

Another observation Meriwether had was that MCCOG was a secondary obligation for its board members. At an August meeting, several board members agreed that they lacked the zeal and energy to maintain MCCOG, and their priorities were with the cities or counties they were elected to represent.

MCCOG meets again today, Oct. 24, and GOBHI will attend and make a pitch to the board. The AAA advisory committee will also be invited.

The largest MCCOG service, transportation, has two parts: a medical transport and a general public transport. The Mid-Columbia Economic Development District is studying whether it wants to take on the general public transport, which is the LINK bus service, which has both dial-a-ride service and fixed route service to Hood River and Portland.

A subcommittee will make a recommendation to the MCEDD board Oct. 25.

MCCOG provided the bulk of its medical transport services to GOBHI, which plans to take over that work directly. Another entity that uses MCCOG for medical transport plans to contract with GOBHI for that work now.

MCCOG also provides building codes services for four of the five member counties (Hood River County provides its own). Because of significant wind farm and server farm projects, the building codes division has a $3.5 million cash reserve, which, by law, can only be spent on building codes needs.

Wasco County Commissioner and MCCOG Chair Steve Kramer said, “We’re trying to figure out where the money goes” and they’re not getting much help from the state. He said it was the first time something like this has happened.

How to divide that money up and how building code services will be provided is up in the air and promises to be a challenging endeavor. “That’s going to be a fun one,” Meriwether said.

In Wasco County, The Dalles Mayor Steve Lawrence said the city and county are looking to jointly provide building codes services and planning service for “one-stop shopping.” They are even interested in moving that combined entity into the current MCCOG building on Kelly Avenue.

Meriwether said morale at MCCOG is generally good, and a large factor is a commitment by GOBHI to take on administrative employees of MCCOG.

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