A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Expenses mount in Benton’s big plans

Written August 5th, 2022 by Hasso Hering

The Benton County Courthouse as seen from the back on a rainy day last April. The low structure on the left is the county jail.

Seven years after their last attempt to win voter approval for a new jail, Benton County officials are assembling a more ambitious and much more expensive expansion project for which property taxpayers eventually will get the bill — if it is carried out.

The last jail bond proposal, for $25 million, was defeated in November 2015. Three years later, in 2018, the county commissioners, their successors and consultants started assembling the details of a new plan and preparing the public to accept it when the time comes to vote for the money.

The time to vote is supposed to come in May 2023, when the commissioners hope voters will appove a bond issue of up to $100 million. The final amount to be requested has not been decided.

The bond money would pay for construction of a new jail and sheriff’s office, surrounded by plenty of parking, on about 29 acres of farmland in Corvallis, near Hewlett-Packard off Highway 20. Officials have offered the owners about $5.5 million for the land and told them it will be taken by eminent domain if the offer is refused.

Along with the jail and sheriff’s office, the county plans to build a new courthouse on the site, with an estimated cost of up to $50 million, but this will not be part of the bond proposal. Instead the county plans to use state grant money for half the cost and somehow borrow the rest.

As for the historic courthouse in downtown Corvallis, it’s to be put to other uses. Details are to be developed later, presumably along with remodeling and other costs.

This week, the county commissioners voted to locate the district attorney’s office in the new courthouse at an estimated cost of $8 million. The county has not been clear on whether that cost is part of or in addition to the estimate of $50 million for the courthouse.

The county calls this grand development the “Community Safety and Justice Campus.” The purpose of this “campus” is to “develop an efficient, effective and equitable justice system in Benton County,” in the words of Nancy Wyse, chair of the county board.

Taxpayers may wonder whether the Benton County justice system isn’t already efficient and fair despite its limitations, such as only 40 beds in the jail and not enough office space for the DA.

Voters may ask that question again next spring before they’ll agree to approve a big bond issue that will show up on their property tax bills for years to come. (hh)

18 responses to “Expenses mount in Benton’s big plans”

  1. Bob Woods says:

    So, no building is ever too old or small and needs to be replaced to satisfy current and future needs ????

  2. Gordon L. Shadle says:

    “Officials” have threatened to take the private property if their offer is refused?

    We should be alarmed when any level of government has the power to make threats to seize private property by force without consent.

    This amounts to a “what’s yours is mine” oppression. It impacts every owner who isn’t interested in having their property taken by force at a government imposed “fair price.”

    I suspect most Benton County voters will not acquiesce to this form of tyranny from their county government. The predictable result will be another rejection of a bond measure.

    • Gordon L. Shadle says:

      Some folks may think “this would never happen in Albany.” Think again.

      The CARA Plan says on page 16:

      The city council has the power to seize private property “for any purpose” using CARA’s “powers of eminent domain.”

      Any bets on whether the Albany city council would exercise this tyrannical power if a desirable property was involved?

      CARA is evil. It’s in writing.

      • Hasso Hering says:

        Since being set up in 2001, CARA has never even considered condemning property, not even when consultants eyed the Eagles lodge as a likely urban renewal property and the Eagles said forget it. Now CARA is on a glide path to finish and go out of business in a few years with a handful of projects. There’s been no mention of eminent domain, and no need for it, in any of the relevant discussions. So, of all the things to lose sleep over, the use of CARA’s power of eminent domain is not one. (hh)

        • Rich Kellum says:

          Hasso, Right on the money. when we were looking at the police station location, some of us wanted to expand at the Jail site. others announced that there was no way that they would use eminent domain and the price of surrounding properties doubled…. that announcement by those two people made it mandatory to use the current location.

  3. CHEZZ says:

    I hope the owners of the farmland do not have to give up their property to the County. It sounds like a low balling number for the land

    • Al Nyman says:

      So farmland which would sell for about $300,000 is getting lowballed by the county at $5.5 million! I’ve got 70 acres I would be willing to sell for $5.5 million and it includes a very nice house.

  4. John Hartman says:

    By the tone of this screed, it seems the political Right will only “back the Blue” as long as it comes at a discount price.

    • Al nyman says:

      If this screed is so tedious to read, why do you bother? Benton County should have bought the new jail in Multnomah County which cost the taxpayers $40 million, was never opened, and then sold to an insider for $7 million. You liberals certainly know how to run a government with dementia Joe showing the way.

  5. Lowry looney says:

    “Justice center” using eminent domain to steal a farmstead while billing the taxpayer. Probably be built it brutalist architectural fashion. So much corruption lady justice must be blind folded again!

  6. Mike quinn says:

    What ever happens to going in with Linn county( Benton county already pays $1.5 million to house prisoners in Linn county jail). If Benton county succeeds in this empire building scheme not only will Benton county voter pay for the building of it within 2 years no money to run it. ( proof look at Linn county and other county jails in oregon all have levies to run jails). And then with Linn county loosing income taxes go up there. They say you can’t intercounty facilities, we’ll look at Linn- Benton community college 50 years, Linn- Benton esd, Linn- Benton housing authority. To many to mention. Send a message to our liberal commissioners in Benton county. Join the inter county models that dot oregon. Vote smart 2022

  7. Richard Vannice says:

    I doubt that the commissioners have even looked at the definite probability that such a new jail will require more personnel which means that they need more money.
    That is what happened in Multnomah County. The voters were sold a bill of goods – got the building – but no people to man the building!!! Typical
    government NON – THINKING outside the box.

    • John Hartman says:

      It is uncertain what you mean by the term “definite probability” as written in your comment. In a probabilistic universe, all probabilities are possible, but that does not make any particular probability “definite.” Quite the opposite.
      The word probability, by definition, makes the term “definite” used in front of it, an oxymoronic phrase. Thank you for your understanding.

      • Al Nyman says:

        Now your comments fit the category of screed as they are tedious nitpicking of an honest poster on this site.

  8. CHEZZ says:

    I was thinking that the offering price was low because it is a family’s Century Farm…

  9. Birdieken says:

    They want to push the million dollar projects through before having to pay 10% COLA’s and address pension losses. They’ll claim poverty and threaten to cut fire and police. Get what you want then you have to get what you need. Can’t have both any other way.

  10. Marvin L McConoughey says:

    Thank you for writing this report, Mr. Hering. I have much yet to learn. For example, what is the probable future trajectory of county spending, with or without a new courthouse? Has anyone begun planning for the future use of our beautiful old courthouse? Could that be completed before we voters decide? I would certainly feel better informed. How does Benton County governmen spending compare to like size counties in other states of similar wealth? Please continue reporting on this issue.


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