County Already $1.08M Into Justice System Consultants
Benton County plans to put a $100 million bond measure on the May 2023 ballot. To date, the county has already spent over $1 million on planning, and is budgeted to hit $3 million by the end of next fiscal year.
To date, most of that money has been paid to DLR Group, a Portland-based firm brought in to help with the pre-design phase, according to Nick Kurth, project manager for the Justice System Improvement Program. About $250,000 has been paid for other consulting services, such as public engagement, communications, and the assessment report.
And we’re only just now starting to move into the higher-ticket phases of the project.
“The most expensive piece is the site evaluations and actual facilities design,” said Board Commissioner Xan Augerot, who’s been part of the project from the start. “It’s an expensive process.”
Up to this point, the expenditures have equated to about three full-time employees working each year on an outdated criminal system, even though the jail program has been operating with a single project manager since 2020, and plenty of consultants to fill in the rest of the work.
Justice System History
After voters defeated a third jail bond in 2015, the Board of Commissioners decided to try again. They began by contracting with Greater Oregon Behavioral Health, Inc. (GOBHI) and CGL Companies to manage and perform an in-depth assessment of the criminal justice system.
For Augerot, the investment isn’t so much about getting a bond measure passed as it is to fix the current system.
These are the total amounts spent according to the records provided by Benton County:
Of the expenditure on this new system, Augerot said. “The courthouse has been around for, what, 130 years? It won’t be around in another 130 years. We have to have workplaces and safe spaces for people, and we need to invest now.”
In 2020, the plan entered pre-design, and Kurth was hired to manage the project.
In fiscal years 2019 through 2021, the County contracted with DLR Group and set aside an extra $2 million for a total $2.25 million budget to push the proposal forward. However, because COVID has taken its toll on staffing resources, the bond measure was delayed and only about half of that has been spent on pre-design and planning of the jail bond measure.
The total budget for 2021 through 2023 is $887,084, about half of which has been spent this past fiscal year.
“Part of the reason we’ve taken as much time as we have, is because we want people to know what we’re doing,” Augerot said. “And tell us what they want us to do.”
Some in the community, including the Corvallis Advocate’s editorial board, have asked for the board to slow down and reconsider the plans they’re pushing through. A number of attorneys have pointed out a suburban correctional campus would make it harder for them to reach their clients, and there are concerns about added trips per day on Highway 20. Additionally, there’s still concern over the current site’s floodplain.
As we come into the final year before the expected bond measure, efforts will focus on pre-design and public outreach, with other smaller investments to work out the details of the plan, such as wetlands delineations and geotechnical site work, commercial real estate services, website development, and land use planning analysis.
Seeing that the entire purpose is to get voters to finally say yes, Kurth says he will be doubling down on public outreach efforts.
After a year of running the program solo, and unsuccessfully trying to find a second employee to help with communications, Kurth contracted Brenda Downum, former communications coordinator for the Corvallis School District, for an estimated $145,700. The County has also budgeted up to $175,000 for Coastline Public Relations to develop the final bond measure package and public engagement process.
Augerot says one of the reasons it’s been so hard to pass the jail bond is that it’s not as “sexy” as, say, education.
“As long as I’ve lived in this community, people are very focused on people. So it’s been difficult to keep up with facilities and building infrastructure,” said Augerot. “But every one of these people who get involved with the justice system is our neighbors, and when they get out, they will be our neighbors again.”
By Peggy Perdue