County allocated over $20 million in state matching funds to construct new courthouse

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Benton County is allocated over $20 million in state matching funds for the construction of a new County courthouse.

With statewide recognition for the need for a modern courthouse that meets best practice standards for safety, access and services, the County’s program was placed on a priority list by the Association of Oregon Counties-Oregon Judicial Department Courthouse Task Force five years ago. Benton County collaborated with the Oregon Judicial Department, to apply for state matching funds for a new courthouse from the Oregon Capital Construction and Improvement Fund. The matching funds enable the state to pay for half of an approximately $40 million new courthouse, with the County funding the remainder. A mandated service, building a new County courthouse to meet the needs of current and future Benton County residents is critical. The Historic Benton County Courthouse was built in 1888 and is no longer capable of meeting current accessibility, safety and trauma-informed services standards.

Through HB 5006, the 2021 State Legislature approved a 50% match of approximately $20.4 million to the County. The new courthouse is one of four new facilities proposed for the County’s Justice System Improvement Program. The award of these state matching resources is contingent upon the County demonstrating the ability to provide its equal share of the project cost.  These resources were contemplated to come through the County’s original bond measure date of May 2022, which has since moved to May 2023. The year-long postponement of the bond measure vote required that the County either identify another funding source for matching funds or re-request funds from the Legislature in the 2023 session.

On Tuesday, December 7, the Board of Commissioners agreed to fund the County’s $20.4 million in matching funds for the new courthouse using a combination of budget reserves and borrowing, enabling the project to advance as originally contemplated. The Board did not wish to forego the $20.4 million matching funds from the State and risk the possibility of a future legislature reducing or eliminating the award.

The Board’s decision will enable the County to execute an agreement with the state to receive an official award of the resources so that design work on the new courthouse may begin in 2022, with an estimated completion date of July 2025. A portion or all of the County’s matching funds may still be included in the May 2023 bond measure to allow the County to reimburse itself for funds drawn from reserves or borrowing. The County does not need to secure its matching funds as a $20.4 million lump sum; it can be staggered over the life of the project.

A site for the new courthouse has not been determined and will in part hinge on the outcome of the Justice System Improvement Program’s site selection process. Currently, program staff and the Board of Commissioners are contemplating two suburban sites, in west and north Corvallis, and a site downtown that is smaller in size than the suburban sites, but large enough for a new courthouse. The Commissioners will have to align on the new courthouse site in early 2022.

Related to the new courthouse, the Board recently discussed the proposed future location of the District Attorney’s Office. The District Attorney currently occupies a portion of the historic Benton County Courthouse. Over the past year, the Justice System Improvement Program’s Technical and Community Advisory Committees contemplated whether the District Attorney should remain in the Historic Benton County Courthouse, or become part of, or co-located with, the proposed new courthouse. Ultimately, the advisory committees recommended the District Attorney’s Office migrate to the new courthouse, to align with industry best practices and the Justice System Improvement Program’s vision of building a justice system for the future. Similarly, District Attorney John Haroldson advocated for moving the District Attorney’s Office to the new courthouse. The Board weighed the recommendation from the advisory committees and DA Haroldson and agreed to support the move conceptually The proposed new District Attorney’s Office is estimated to cost about $16 million and is not included in the new courthouse matching funds awarded by the State. Consequently, Benton County must fund the entire $16 million to advance the County’s desire to co-locate the District Attorney with the new courthouse. A funding source, whether the result of a successful bond measure, additional borrowing, or a combination of both, has not been determined at this time.