At first glance, Benton County’s looming purchase of a second building on Research Way in Corvallis makes more than a bit of sense.
In case you missed it, on Tuesday afternoon the Benton County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to purchase the Fiserv building at 4500 SW Research Way for $7.1 million from the Oregon State University Foundation. Remodeling the space is expected to cost up to $2 million.
The county already owns a structure on that street – the Sunset Building at 4077 SW Research Way houses the Health, Juvenile, Assessment, Human Resources and Financial Services departments for Benton County. The new building would allow for even more public services in a single location, and eliminate the need for leasing some office space.
The Records, Elections, Information Technology and Human Resources departments and more offices could all move over, creating a sort of campus for Benton County. Plus, as an added bonus, Fiserv would continue to lease space in the building, partially offsetting the purchase price. Commuting costs from workers shuttling between various office buildings also would shrink.
In concept, everything sounds neat and tidy, though we acknowledge the grumbles about moving county offices from downtown Corvallis, which is convenient for many residents.
Purchasing the building at 4500 SW Research Way would require the county to either borrow money or issue bonds. Still, the price tag also doesn’t seem steep – unless you consider the message it sends and the likely verdict in the court of public opinion.
The timing could come back to haunt the county.
You see, there’s the matter of the Benton County Jail, and the need for a new Benton County Courthouse. As we may have mentioned in previous editorials, calling these facilities woefully inadequate is an understatement.
Upgrading the jail has proven difficult, however, despite the fact that it has only 40 beds and therefore has a revolving door for low-level offenders, many of whom are “frequent fliers” who then fail to appear for court appearances.
County voters already have, on three occasions, shot down proposals to build a new jail. The most recent of these was a $25 million bond measure that failed in 2015. The cost of construction and land acquisition has surely escalated since then.
The Benton County Courthouse is beautiful, especially when lighted at Christmastime, but the old building is poorly suited to serve the needs of a 21st century criminal justice system. For starters, if there were a major earthquake, it’s likely nothing would be left of the postcard-worthy structure except rubble.
A new ballot measure seeking money for Benton County criminal justice system upgrades seem inevitable, given the state of these two facilities.
Again, there are perfectly reasonable arguments to justify the pending purchase of the Fiserv building on Research Way. But this also likely will be in the back of the minds of residents who will be asked to vote to raise their own taxes to better their own security.
Instead of setting aside $9 million for criminal justice upgrades to keep residents safe, Benton County has seemingly prioritized other services.
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