Falls short of requested funds

by: HOLLY M. GILL - Jefferson County will receive $4 million from the state for construction of a new courthouse.Jefferson County got good news from the state last week, when the Oregon Legislature passed a bill authorizing funding for a new county courthouse.

During a marathon session on Thursday evening, Rep. John Huffman, who sits on the Ways and Means and Capital Construction committees, reported that the Capital Construction Subcommittee had approved $4 million in bonding for the courthouse — substantially less than the county requested.

"This represents about $1.53 million less than what we were hoping for," said Huffman, adding that the bonds will be sold in the spring of 2015.

However, he added, with the passage of funds for Central Oregon Community College and OSU Cascades, it was "All in all, pretty good news for Central Oregon."

On Friday, before the Legislature adjourned, the funding measure, Senate Bill 5703, easily passed the House and Senate.

The county was able to apply for state assistance to replace the old courthouse as a result of a bill the Oregon Legislature passed in 2013 to make certain courthouse projects eligible for up to 50 percent in matching state funds for court space.

Because of structural deficiencies in the courthouse that make it unsafe in the event of a seismic event, its location in a floodway, and inadequate space, the Jefferson County Courthouse was on the top of the list of courthouses to be replaced.

According to County Administrator Jeff Rasmussen, the county had asked the state for $5.5 million of the total cost of the courthouse, which was estimated at $12.9 million.

"The county would have been responsible for $7.4 million," he said. "We would use $2 million in cash and look at financing for $5.4 million. Over 30 years, we would have an annual payment of $380,000 (at 5.5 percent)."

Now, the county is scheduled to receive $4,065,000. "If the commissioners want to continue with the same scope, the county's cost will be $8.8 million," he said. "If we use $2 million in cash, we would have to finance $6.8 million. For the same interest rate and same number of years, that would be $469,960 (per year)."

Even though the county didn't receive the $5.5 million requested, Rasmussen was gratified that the Legislature approved the funding.

"It's a tremendous help in moving the project forward," he said. "Do we wish we could have gotten the full amount? Absolutely."

With plans for a 35,000-square-foot building, the county anticipated that the building would meet the county's needs for the next 50 years. "If we do have to scale it back, it would potentially be less than that," he said.

Taxpayers don't need to worry that the county will raise taxes to pay for the new courthouse. "At least the county commissioners have talked about using existing sources of revenue," said Rasmussen. "There's been no discussion of asking taxpayers for a tax increase to pay for the courthouse."

The staff will meet with architects in the next couple of weeks in order to take proposals and options to the commissioners on how to either scale the project back, or find other money, he said.

In the proposed 35,000-square-foot courthouse, the county planned to include about 5,000 square feet for the district attorney's office, even though it is not eligible for partial funding.

The courthouse will be built on a 1.85 acre parcel — located west of the new Madras City Hall — which the city donated to the county.

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