PENDLETON — Umatilla and Morrow counties are joining forces to ask the state to set up a workforce development board covering only the two counties.

The state in 2015 grouped Umatilla, Morrow plus six more counties in Eastern Oregon into one regional workforce board. Umatilla County Commissioner George Murdock said the configuration is the problem.

“Right now, our regional workforce board covers a third of Oregon,” he said, and that wide swath from Washington to Nevada fails to reflect the issues unique to Umatilla and Morrow counties. During the board of commissioners meeting on Wednesday, he said the county’s representatives grow so frustrated they resign from the workforce board.

The state has nine regional workforce boards. While the Eastern Oregon Works covers eight counties, the East Cascade Works covers 10 counties in central Oregon. The remaining seven boards on the west side of the state have between one and five counties.

Murdock said the smaller regions are more homogeneous, and Umtilla and Morrow counties “are a natural fit on workforce issues.”

The county board to that end voted 3-0 on a resolution to set up a workforce board focused only with the two counties. The Morrow County Board of Commissioners also voted Wednesday for the move.

Morrow County Commissioner Melissa Lindsay said the resolution will come forward next week, but the board voted 3-0 to put in an application and send a letter to the governor’s office asking for the more focused board. The two counties already work on projects together and have common issues, she said, and a board dedicated to the needs of the two counties would continue to push that pendulum forward.

Umatilla County commissioners also voted to have the county rejoin the Eastern Oregon Counties Association.

Umatilla County in June 2018 withdrew from the association. The county paid $14,600 a year in dues for lobbying in Washington, D.C., but the board questioned if it got its money’s worth, finding the group instead focused on too many issues that did not matter in Umatilla County while not working on water issues, the growing wolf population and more.

Murdock said the association opted to broaden its agenda after the county broke off and created a two-tiered membership — one for the federal level and another for the state. Umatilla County board voted 3-0 to pay $10,000 to join at the lower level.

And in other business, the county joined as co-sponsors of the free enterprise zone between Pendleton and Pilot Rock.

Gal Nelson, the county’s economic development coordinator, told the board the two cities renewed the zone for another 10 years. The only change was Pendleton added hotels and resorts as businesses that can qualify for tax abatement. The county board approved the co-sponsorship 3-0.

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