Linn County lacks funds to expand courthouse | Local

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TIM GRUVER

A multimillion-dollar expansion to the Linn County Circuit Courthouse is on hold as Linn County officials debate ways to fund the dream project.

The project stems from Linn County’s original plans to build a new justice center next to the Linn County Jail a few years ago.

At $60 million, a new justice center proved too expensive for the county, even after splitting the cost 50-50 with the state.

Since then, the county has turned its attention away from a new building, expanding the Linn County Circuit Courthouse to provide additional security.

Cameras, locks and key card access to the courthouse have been added over the years. The county also wants to introduce metal detectors, which could be a nuisance to the general public.

“We don’t want citizens who come to get a marriage license to go through a metal detector,” Linn County Administrator Darrin Lane said in an interview.

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According to Lane, the courthouse extension would create a secure area for the courts and a separate entrance for visitors there for personal or regional reasons.

The measures, Lane said, are part of a nationwide push to improve overall safety in public buildings.

The courthouse expansion could also make room for county services that need more real estate, he added.

The estimated cost of expanding the district court was nearly $32 million, according to Lane. Linn County would need to match about $16 million in government subsidies with about $15 million out of pocket.

Since then, changes in state law have presented another stumbling block for the county: Extensions to existing public buildings, such as the courthouse, are no longer partially or fully subsidized, leaving Linn County at first place.

On Wednesday, March 2, Lane told Linn County Commissioners during a meeting at the Linn County Expo Center that the cost of expanding the courthouse may not mean the returns that local taxpayers want.

The net gain for the county in terms of area and improvements, he said, would be small compared to that of the state if expansion took place.

“My feeling is that the board doesn’t want to spend $15 million in district funds on an expansion, 90% of which goes to the state courts,” Lane said. “We want at least a significant improvement in our capabilities and our operations as part of such an investment.”

Linn County Commissioner and Chief Executive Roger Nyquist expressed concern that the impact of the project on the county’s coffers would result in budget cuts.

“It just doesn’t seem like a good way to fund this project,” Nyquist said. “The numbers just don’t work.”

Lane said during Wednesday’s meeting that Linn County will work with state legislators to propose changes to Oregon’s public works programs for next year’s legislature.

Tim Gruver covers the city of Albany and Linn County. He can be contacted at 541-812-6114 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter via @T_TimeForce.

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