History of OCWCOG
The Oregon Cascades West Council of Governments was formed in the late 1960s in order to qualify Benton and Linn County communities for federal grants and loans to make infrastructure improvements (water, sewer, and parks). At that time, the association was known as the Linn-Benton Association of Governments (LBAofG). Initially, the LBAofG was simply an agreement between the governments to share in staffing to develop required regional capital improvement plans.
In 1970, Governor Tom McCall divided the State into administrative regions. Associations of governments were encouraged to have the same boundaries as these districts. Thus Lincoln County and its communities were joined with the LBAofG local governments. This new alliance was named Oregon District 4 Council of Governments (OD4COG), as it contained all of the State’s sub-region 4.
While meeting the Governor’s wishes and scheme, the three counties were less than convinced that this arrangement was to their advantage. Consequently, the Region as a whole met only annually and two sub-district boards convened monthly to conduct business – one for Benton and Linn Counties, and the other for local governments, ports, and the Confederated Tribes of the Siletz in Lincoln County.
The sub-district structure included a six member Executive Board representing the entire Region, which met monthly, and made most of the important decisions of the agency. The Executive Board consisted of a commissioner from each county and another elected official from each county. After considerable discussion in 1990, the Articles of Agreement were re-written to give most decision-making authority to a board consisting of a representative of each member government, which would meet every other month. The sub-districts were eliminated. The Executive Board continues, but has only limited administrative and policy setting roles. It meets in the months the Board of Directors (Board) does not meet. In addition, standing advisory committees were called for, to advise the Board and monitor program operation in each of the association’s major program areas.
Accompanying these changes, the name of the organization was also changed to the current Oregon Cascades West Council of Governments.
In 1996, the Articles of Agreement were again changed to be consistent with a revised enabling statute (ORS 190.010). The change created a formal entity rather than a contractual relations of members. In reality, the entity looked and operated just as the association had looked and operated previously; however the new entity had certain powers not otherwise enabled, specifically, the power to own real property.
Facilities and Technology
For the first 30 years of its existence the Oregon Cascades West Council of Governments (OCWCOG) was housed in leased spaces throughout the tri-county Region. However, in 1996, OCWCOG purchased a 34,000 square foot former State office building in Albany. This allowed the OCWCOG to centralize most staff that work in Benton and Linn Counties and reduce operating costs.
The building of a Toledo office to serve Lincoln County followed in 2001. That location was chosen as a result of a decision by all Lincoln County members. The site purchase and development was in financial cooperation with the City of Toledo, who aggressively pursued locating the office in Toledo.
With central offices in Albany and Toledo, the OCWCOG developed a network of satellite offices and staffing locations to accommodate client needs in the tri-county Region of Benton, Lincoln, and Linn Counties. A full time audio/video capacity was developed to operate between the Albany and Toledo offices, to ease regional management and make it easier for those attending Region-wide meetings.
Senior and Disability Services
The OCWCOG became the Federal and State recognized Area Agency on Aging (AAA) in the 1970s. With this designation, OCWCOG began operation of the Senior Meals program and the signature Meals on Wheels service. With the designation of an AAA, OCWCOG was also mandated to provide an outreach function to identify seniors in need and to provide legal assistance in the area of laws related to low-income senior support.
In 1982, the State legislature passed a law that allowed local governments to transfer to local management the State’s long-term care programs for seniors and persons with long-term disabilities. The intent was to better coordinate the State’s Medicaid funded programs with the local government’s or local non-profit’s federally funded AAA programs.
After a short period of managing contracts for both State long-term care programs, OCWCOG elected to transfer the staff and clients of the senior service program to OCWCOG, while not doing the same for the long-term disability program. However, after the advantages of local management were clear, in 1996, the OCWCOG similarly transferred the State disability services clients and staff to OCWCOG.
Since inception, OCWCOG has had a strong community development assistance program. Initially, the focus was facilitating members qualifying and applying for Federal grants and loans. Staff also assisted in the administration of grants and loans to assure compliance with federal requirements. That function continues today although the opportunities for Federal and State facility funding have dramatically decreased.
Since the 1980s, Staff have assisted with community planning projects and tasks ranging from being contract city planners to preparing specialized regional reports on community development issues.
In the 1980s and 1990s, OCWCOG served as a regional census data center to facilitate access to census information. Today, the internet has made that function much less important.
Staff has been and continues to be available for ad hoc planning and goal setting services to member governments.
OCWCOG’s economic development role began in the 1970s with its designation as the Federal- and State-recognized Economic Development District. That role requires OCWCOG to annually develop a Region-wide plan for improving the economy and the infrastructure that is needed to support economic growth.
For a decade, this designation made OCWCOG a major resource to advance the local economic development agenda. Federal funds were focused on technical assistance to the member governments and special planning projects. That role changed in the late 1980s, as Federal funds diminished and the available limited funding was split between the OCWCOG and its sister agency, Lane County Council of Governments (LCOG). Lane County had petitioned OCWCOG to allow them to join, since Federal rules prohibited Lane County from being an Economic Development district on its own.
The new focus of the economic develop effort was staffing the State lottery funded economic strategy grants program and business development and expansion lending. This latter role, providing business capital, began in 1983, quickly lead to the creation of a seven-County non-profit organization, the Cascades West Financial Services, Inc. Over time, a myriad of Federal and State business loan programs were added to the resources made available to banks and businesses by OCWCOG Staff. By 2005, over $35 million dollars have been provided to business in the Region.
Transportation Planning, Advocacy, and Operations
OCWCOG’s development of regional transportation programs began in the mid-1980s. Initially, OCWCOG brought together the Region’s local governments to prioritize which regionally significant highway improvements should be advocated. This highly successful local effort evolved in the 1990s with the establishment of the State-recognized Cascades West Area Commission on Transportation (CWACT), and when the Corvallis area qualified for Federal status as a Metropolitan Planning Organization area and OCWCOG was selected to staff that sub-regional organization, the Corvallis Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO).
The OCWCOG also serves as the region’s car pool and van pool agency and staffs other Transportation Demand Management programs.
In 2005, OCWCOG launched a special transportation brokerage program to facilitate the connection of rider and transportation provider, called Cascades West RideLine. This program focuses on non-emergency medically related rides funded by the Federal and State Medicaid program. However, it is anticipated that the service will expand to serve non-Medicaid related ride coordination as well, working with the tri-Counties Special Transportation programs.
Special Ad Hoc Program Support
By Oregon law, OCWCOG can develop and operate programs to carry out any function of local government when requested by members and approved by the Board. This flexibility has often been utilized throughout OCWCOGs history. The subject of these efforts included such diverse tasks as staffing a sub-regional cable TV franchise commission; development and initial staffing of a Benton County criminal justice system coordination effort (presently the Willamette Valley Criminal Justice Council); staffing the Benton County Veterans Services office, in concert with the OCWCOG Disability Services program; and facilitating the development of the 911 call center for Linn County, etc.
Services such as these are expected to continue as local governments look for more efficient and cost effective ways to provide services or study issues.
During the latter part of the 1990s and continuing today, the Technology Services staff has assisted several member governments revamp their computer systems, and have helped other cities analyze their computer needs. They have found the least expensive means to purchase technology equipment for a number to members.
In addition, Technology Services has nationally marketed an advocacy software package it developed for the Oregon Area Agencies on Aging and Disability Association (O4AD). The National Association of Area Agency on Aging (N4A) selected OCWCOG developed advocacy software for its members to utilize and a number of State associations have done likewise.
The department has several other software packages and services it is offering, including web based conference marketing and registration.