Benton County is closing in on sites and specifics for its justice improvement project.
County officials briefed a League of Women Voters of Corvallis forum and the Corvallis City Council on Monday night.
The county plans to take a bond measure of perhaps as much as $100 million to the voters in November 2022.
County officials are hoping to arrange for five pieces: a crisis center, a new jail, a new courthouse, a new center for the sheriff’s office and emergency operations and the remodeling of the 1880s courthouse, which is no longer seismically safe.
The good news is that $2.5 million in state and federal funding already has gotten the county most of the way to the funding it needs for the crisis center, which will be a place to work with individuals with mental health issues that can be stabilized without involving law enforcement or a hospital emergency room. The center will be created by remodeling the board of commissioners’ office on Northwest Fifth Street. The commissioners and the county IT department will be moving to the new county building on Southwest Research Way.
Here is a look at the options that are still under consideration:
• Concept 1 calls for the new courthouse, sheriff/emergency facility and the new jail on property on Reservoir Avenue near the Benton County Fairgrounds.
• Concept 2 calls for the same three pieces on property along Highway 99W in South Corvallis near Southeast Kiger Island Drive.
• Concept 3a includes the jail and sheriff/emergency pieces at the Reservoir site, with the new courthouse joining the crisis center downtown.
• Concept 3b features the jail and sheriff/emergency center on Highway 99W and the new courthouse and the crisis center downtown.
Several councilors expressed a preference for siting as many of the pieces downtown as possible, but Joe Kerby, county administrator, noted that parking would be a challenge downtown and that the county still is negotiating with Lumen/Century Link for its property on Northwest Fourth Street.
County officials also noted that working with the “west” site on Reservoir would be less expensive than the “south” parcel on Highway 99W because of transportation infrastructure and wetlands issues that exist on the south site.
The cost of the pieces, said Nick Kurth, the project manager would be: $50 million for a 120-bed jail (replacing the 40-bed model), $2-5 million for the crisis center, $35 million for the new courthouse, $16-25 million for sheriff/emergency operations and up to $20 million for the historic courthouse.
The county has in hand the $2.5 million for the crisis center and $20 million for the new courthouse. At the high end that means perhaps as much as $113 million that would have to be financed by the bond issue. Kurth and county officials hope to work that down to $100 million or lower, possibly by postponing the work on the old courthouse.
If the total ask is $100 million that would mean a bond issue that would charge 80 cents for each $1,000 of assessed value, or $280 per year for owners of property assessed at $350,000.
The commissioners will choose between the south and west sites sometime this fall, with the funding plan set to be solidified next summer.
County officials also are planning another public outreach session Oct. 13.
In other news from the council meeting:
• City officials and councilors discussed the receipt of dozens of negative emails and phone calls after a Portland radio show discussed the city’s policy on firefighter vaccinations.
Because firefighters are health care workers they are subject to state mandates on vaccinations. Four of the 55 or so Corvallis firefighters requested exemptions.
City Manager Mark Shepard said that the city countered with an offer of unpaid leave or an “accommodation” that requires the firefighters to wear an N95 mask except when eating and to be subject to weekly COVID testing. Separate rules would be in place for sleeping and showering as well.
Shepard said he has not heard directly from a firefighter about concerns over the policy. Nor has he heard of any suggested alternatives, but he added that “if a firefighter approaches us with a proposal we will certainly entertain that.”
• Mayor Biff Traber used his mayoral report time to emphasize his belief that residents should wear masks and be vaccinated.
“Vaccines do work, and vaccines and masks are important to control the surge of COVID infections,” he said. “I think this is a reasonable public health request.”
• Ward 2 Councilor Charles Maughan, meanwhile, noted frustrating traffic challenges near Oregon State University during move-in day for students on Sunday.
“But then I learned that the reason for the delays was that all of the students were being tested for COVID,” Maughan said. “I thank OSU for being thorough and testing everyone.”