ON THE RECORD/Methamphetamine crisis on front burner
This month, the National Association of Counties (NACo) will induct president Bill Hansell at its annual conference in Honolulu. Hansell currently serves as county commissioner for rural Umatilla County, Ore., a position he has held for 23 years. He recently took a break from meeting with local officials in Mississippi to talk with American City & County about his plans for the upcoming year.
Q: What are your initiatives for the year?
A: I’m going to have initiatives [focusing in three areas]. One is the methamphetamine crisis that is becoming an issue for counties. Methamphetamine abuse affects counties in so many ways, and the cost per taxpayer is staggering. We are going to be forming a task force, and we will be holding meetings at our annual conference. Our thrust is going to be to help counties at each level [of government]. The second is the court appointed special advocate program or CASA. Out of the 3,000 counties, about 1,100 have this program. We are working to strengthen the programs that exist and expand it to counties that currently do not offer those services. The third one, which is still in the early stages of development, is going to be an IT initiative of some type that will be able to provide services for counties.
Q: How has representing your county shaped your initiatives?
A: The methamphetamine issue in Oregon is huge. Our county has led the state in meth lab busts per capita. Anhydrous ammonia is a primary fertilizer for our agricultural industry, particularly the wheat industry, and has been very available for the production of meth.
Q: What is a main issue facing counties regardless of their size?
A: The biggest single challenge is that we have to provide the services people want and expect county government to provide with the resources we are given. It’s very easy for the states to say, “OK, we don’t want to pay for this anymore, so we’ll give it to the counties.” We have to be active with the state associations where that takes place. The federal government has a very important part to play, too. The federal transportation bill is very important. In my case, that’s where we get [money for] the bridges that we build, primarily through federal funding. That’s why we need a strong presence in Washington, D.C.
Q: Are there any initiatives from last year that you will continue?
A: We are certainly going to continue our work on Angelo [Kyle]’s housing initiative. We don’t abandon [initiatives] just because a new president comes in. A previous president, Ken Mayfield, one of his initiatives was the mentally ill housed in county jails. Congress recently passed legislation that addresses some of those concerns. It didn’t come exactly when Ken was president, but he got the ball rolling.
Q: What have you done in the last year with NACo that you are particularly proud of?
A: I’ve enjoyed, like I’m doing right now, visiting the states, having an opportunity to spend time with the local officials and to set up ways to help them. When I spoke to the Louisiana Police Jurors Association in the winter, I realized for the first time how important coastline erosion is for states on the Gulf Coast. So when I put together my committee structure I was able to put together a work force on that particular thing. To be in a position to respond to the needs of counties has been very rewarding for me.