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Top priorities for the upcoming year include work on county buildings and finding space for growing departments as well as creating a new Juniper Canyon access road

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Space in the Crook County Courthouse is limited lately as departments have grown and are taking up more space in the old building. County leaders are working to find ways to account for the cramped conditions.

Now that the calendar has flipped to 2020, Crook County leaders are looking back at past successes and setting goals for the coming year.

Crook County Judge Seth Crawford said he and his fellow commissioners Brian Barney and Jerry Brummer have several noteworthy accomplishments for 2019. Perhaps the most visible of them is the completion of the Crook County Jail, which finally opened amid considerable fanfare this past summer.

"That process went really well and came in under budget," Crawford said, adding that Barney, the county's public safety liaison, did a good job of shepherding the process over the finish line.

Crawford went on to highlight the incoming helibase that is now under construction at the Prineville Airport. An effort launched by the county and the city of Prineville, construction of the facility is slated to conclude this spring and provide a new space for Forest Service firefighters.

"That will be a great opportunity for not only jobs but increasing the infrastructure at the airport and expanding the amount of area that can be developed up there," he said.

Other issues that the county has faced in 2019 that will continue into the new year include gun control. In response to firearm legislation introduced in the Oregon Legislature, the County Court wrote a letter to the National Rifle Association, seeking their help in stopping the bills from passing.

"The County Court was able to stop a lot of the ridiculous gun laws coming out of Salem," Crawford said, adding that all but 11 counties wrote similar letters. "I don't think we can take all of the credit, but we did a good job of mobilizing ourselves and our neighbors. And we are going to continue to do whatever we can in our capacity to protect the laws of the county, the Constitution and our Second Amendment rights."

Another issue, which has roots at the federal level, is the future of Secure Rural Schools payments. Crook County Road Department has for years depended on the payments, which were established to compensate counties that used to depend on timber receipts. There was concern that the program would not continue, but that changed recently as Congress agreed to reauthorize them for two more years.

"It is really great because at this point, without those funds, we were going to have to take a really deep look at the amount of road maintenance that we are providing and the quality of roads that we have here," Crawford said.

One of the main challenges that the county faces going forward is building space and maintenance. Maintenance has been addressed, Crawford said, by placing greater emphasis on regular management of county facilities, so that issues are dealt with before they become more significant and expensive.

Meanwhile, a facilities study conducted this past year revealed that several departments housed in the Crook County Courthouse are running out of space. Having determined that the Community Development Department needed the entire first floor of the building, county court and administration offices were moved west to a building across Court Street.

While this began to solve the problem, more space issues remain. Crawford said the Circuit Court is bursting at the seams and the district attorney's office also lacks adequate space.

"We are in a situation where we are going to need some type of criminal justice center to house the courts as well as the district attorney's office, the victims' advocates, the juvenile department and parole and probation," he said.

This year, the county will work on securing state funds to finance that effort, and it plans to hold public meetings to determine what residents feel should be done.

"We need to find some kind of fix for the situation," Crawford said.

Also generating public meetings soon will be the ongoing effort to add a second access to Juniper Canyon. Studies took place in 2019 to determine where a road could go and how the county could afford to build it.

County leaders plan to hold public meetings in February with Juniper Canyon residents and other members of the public to inform them of the process and potential timelines.

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