I think the last time I wrote about Lebanon in this blog, I was in Beirut. This time, I’m writing about our neighbor to the east. Lebanon and Linn County’s successful bid to bring a new Veterans’ Home to the area is good news for everyone in our region. Veterans in need will have improved access to care, and many new jobs will be created to build and operate the facility.
As much as we might appreciate living in Albany, we really live in a region where we are rewarded or punished by the performance of our neighbors. Prosperity in Lebanon, Millersburg, Tangent, Corvallis, or even Salem and Eugene, is good for Albany, while bad news in those communities is likely to be bad for us. We shop in each other’s stores; use each other’s medical facilities; work in each other’s businesses; and generally take advantage of the opportunities available in each community.
Regional government is not a popular concept in the U.S., as we seem to prefer many small jurisdictions over a few large ones. Perhaps the most visible reminder of our distrust of big government is the sheer number of government jurisdictions we support. We all realize, of course, that people who live in Lebanon, Sweet Home, or Corvallis are dramatically different from those of us living in Albany. We also know we need separate units of government to deal with education, jails, rural issues, and, in some cases, cemeteries, irrigation, or fire protection. Our Council of Governments helps coordinate many of our efforts but generally has no ability to compel cooperation.
I am not arguing that we should attempt to create a regional government in our part of the Willamette Valley. Metro, the limited regional government in the Portland area, continues to be a controversial model after nearly 30 years of service, although support seems much stronger today than in the organization’s early days. I do think it’s important to remind ourselves of our interdependence with our neighbors and to act on that knowledge. There will be times, like now, when community interests intersect at a project like the Veterans’ Home and times when they collide. Communities that develop the habit of cooperation will be able to work through differences productively.
Albany is fortunate to have greatly improved relations with our neighbors in recent years. We are close partners with Millersburg on critical water and wastewater infrastructure projects, and we both contribute to our local economic development corporation. Our secondary water intake is located on the Santiam River near Lebanon and also serves that city’s water system. We are active members of the Cascades West Council of Governments, and we participate in a number of regional partnerships, such as the Benton-Lane-Linn Water Study Group.
Community leaders in Lebanon and Linn County government deserve great credit for bringing an important new facility and its accompanying services to our region. It’s another example of how cooperation and good relationships among local governments produce results that benefit all of us.