Jefferson County plead for courthouse funds

Officials appear before legislative committee in Salem

By Lauren Dake / The Bulletin / @LaurenDake

Published Feb 15, 2014 at 12:01AM

SALEM — A group of Jefferson County officials traveled to the Capitol on Friday to tell lawmakers the county’s courthouse is “wholly inadequate.”

There are security issues with the building, they said.

“We’re sitting there with victims of child abuse and domestic violence, and they are walking down a hallway that’s nine feet wide, with chairs on both sides, so there is no separation between defendants and victims,” Jefferson County Judge Dan Ahern told members of the Joint Capital Construction Committee.

The building also is said to be located in a flood zone.

“We flood both ways … water comes up and water comes down,” Ahern said.

And they say the 1961 courthouse is not structurally safe or handicap accessible.

“Jefferson County’s courthouse has significant structural defects that present actual threats to human health and safety,” a county letter states.

The county is requesting $5.5 million from the state to build a new 35,000-square-foot, three-story courthouse on county property near Madras City Hall and the Madras Police Department.

The entire project would be $13 million, county Administrator Jeff Rasmussen told the committee.

Rep. John Huffman, R-The Dalles, who sits on the committee, told lawmakers on Friday, he has confirmed the support of Oregon Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Ballmer, who must OK the funding.

Indeed, Ballmer submitted a letter to the committee noting the “need for upgraded courthouse facilities across Oregon has been documented for a long time.” He urged “favorable consideration” of the Jefferson County project.

Although Ballmer gives the final go-ahead to fund the project, lawmakers must authorize bonding for the improvements.

Lawmakers also heard from Jay Kenton, vice chancellor for finance and administration for the Oregon University System, who spoke briefly on funding needed by both the Oregon State University-Cascades Campus and Central Oregon Community College. The community college needs $3.6 million in lottery bonds so it can retire debt on Cascades Hall and let OSU-Cascades out of its lease on the building. That would free up OSU-Cascades to continue its expansion. OSU-Cascades is seeking $3.9 million in bonds so it can move forward with building its new campus.

Lawmakers typically make capital construction allocations near the end of the session.

They must adjourn by March 9.

— Reporter, 541-554-1162; dake@bendbulletin.com

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