Setting the record straight on Clackamas County courthouse
Last week there was an opinion article in this newspaper regarding our plans for a new county courthouse. Unfortunately the author appears to have neither been aware about some information regarding the law nor plans for the courthouse. There were also some assumptions regarding the traffic court that were incorrect. I am writing this to correct the record.
For starters, by law, traffic court cannot be in the county seat, which is Oregon City. That is one reason it is located in the Clackamas Town Center area. There was once a plan to put the traffic court in the sheriff department's Brooks building on Sunnyside, but the sheriff had other needs for that building, which was his call to make.
As for the financial issues surrounding the plans for a new courthouse, the plan originated in 1998 as part of the county master plan for the Red Soils Campus. There is infrastructure underground that was constructed for a new courthouse because previous commissions planned ahead for the eventuality of a new courthouse. They also acquired sufficient land for that purpose at the site.
The original courthouse in downtown Oregon City was built about 1936 when we had about 40,000 people. It was built for one court and the county offices. Today, there are 11 courts squeezed into the building, along with part of the DA's staff/offices. It is severely overcrowded, unhealthy, past its useful life for its designed purpose and at risk of falling into the river — 3 feet from a 100-foot drop. Our population is now almost 420,000, we need at least 14 courts (judges) and the security issues are very poor for victims of crime, among many other problems.
Fast forward to today: The state, recognizing many courts in Oregon are well past their prime, has established a program to help finance new ones. We are near or at the top of the list. They will return to Clackamas County $96 million for the construction of a new court. I would be grossly irresponsible to turn down the return of $96 million of your tax dollars to Clackamas County for a much-needed project that has been planned and prepared for for over 20 years.
As for the balance of the financing, we are looking at various scenarios, one of which is a public/private partnership with the construction firm, when it is selected. We can also ask you, the taxpayers, via a bond. We have not decided which way we intend to go, but if we end up asking you, you will definitely have the opportunity to vote on it.
Finally, many citizens who access court services also need the services of our Social Services Department. This puts them both in close proximity to each other, and makes it much more convenient for our citizens to use.
Ken Humberston is a Clackamas County commissioner.
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