On Wednesday, the County Elections office sent out ballots, and we voters have until May 16 to send them back. Choices include the largest infrastructure project in county history, a $110 million tax measure that would fund building a new jail and sheriff’s office. Corvallisites also have a School Board race to decide.
We hosted CitySpeak town halls on both of these choices. You can click here for the School Board Debate, or here for the Community Safety Bond forum. Here are our endorsements:
Measure 2-140, Community Safety Bonds
We’re endorsing a no vote on this measure. Constrained resources mean tough choices, and we believe this measure represents far too much spending in just one aspect of our community’s life. It’s not that our local justice facilities aren’t important – but they do need to be balanced with other goals and imperatives.
If voters reject this measure, we would hope the county quickly comes back to voters with a pared down proposal.
For instance, Sheriff Van Arsdall makes a compelling case for a new jail – the current facility offers zero outdoor opportunities for those housed there, and it doesn’t offer the space for mental health work and learning programs that can help folks that find themselves incarcerated. Likewise, District Attorney John Haroldson has long argued the current courthouse, built in 1888, which is 135 years ago, isn’t big enough anymore. Also, as no small aside, reports commissioned by the county clearly indicate the existing courthouse would be nothing short of a death trap in the instance of a seismic event.
Funding is already secured for a new $60 million courthouse, and another $8 million is also secured for a new district attorney’s office. As to the $110 million measure before voters, the breakdown: is $64 million for the new jail, $40 million for a new sheriff’s office, $3 million to fund a local nonprofit’s homeless services, $1.5 million to house a children’s mental health program in a larger facility, and $1.5 million for various administrative and design costs.
Possibly, the county could wait on the sheriff’s and district attorney’s offices, and come back to voters with just the correctional facility – this would bring the bill down by $48 million.
We know that would be a tough choice, but we find ourselves in a time of severely contracting education budgets, stressed food bank inventories, an affordable housing crisis, and growing homelessness – and the list of ills could go on, all of it practically screaming for taxpayer attention.
We laud the county for adding $3 million of homeless services to this measure – but with 800 to 1200 homeless folks in Benton County, we believe that spend needs to be deeper if we as a community want to see real change.
Also, win or lose, we see the county looking to build space for mental health services, but they admit to not having a cohesive strategy to attract the professionals necessary to staff-up. The Health Department is already so short staffed that wait times for people actually looking to change their lives with substance abuse or mental health counseling are essentially turned away, euphemistically put on a wait list exceeding a month or more. Now, the county is about to build a crisis center, without any real hiring plan. In our estimation, this needs immediate attention.
Also, we’ve learned that the various cities, school districts and other taxing authorities in our area only meet together with the county once yearly to discuss large scale facilities developments and long-term planning. We believe these folks need to be looking ahead a few decades, together, so we can start to avoid some of the facilities deficit shocks we’ve been seeing of late. Maybe, these groups can even find some shorter term economies of scale, again, together.
In relation to this measure, both voters and our own staff have had a diversity of opinions about everything from site selection fairness and eminent domain to concepts of justice and law enforcement. Some have even questioned the motivations of county electeds and staff. Others are becoming increasingly concerned for taxpayers on a fixed income. However, none of these issues were ultimately determinative for us.
In short, we see the wider interests of the community as also needing resources.
Corvallis School Board Position 2
We are endorsing Chris Hawkins for this seat. Hawkins has 37 years of experience as an educator, 27 of them with Corvallis Schools. She has taught elementary school and served as the District’s crisis response coordinator – and from another vantage point, her own three children have attended Corvallis schools.
We featured Hawkins in 2017 for her work spearheading efforts to help the District’s homeless students. The position required coordination with everyone from funders and fellow advocates, to administrators, teachers, parents and students.
Disarmingly unassuming, we see Hawkins as having the exact set of experiences the Board needs now. Both teachers and students are having a tough time navigating at the moment, and as the District starts dealing with decreasing resources, Hawkins’ familiarity with the terrain will make for a compellingly pragmatic and compassionate voice on the Board.
Hawkins speaks for equity and inclusion for students of all walks – and we are supportive of her view that the District should expand its vocational training programs.
Opponent Steven Castellano makes some valid points that the district would do well to consider. He is unabashedly critical of how Oregon prioritizes education – and given that the state’s governor and lawmakers are quite likely to underfund education by $400 million this year, we’d have to agree with his assessment. He points out to anyone that will listen that Oregon is 48th in the nation when it comes to education. He also believes that Corvallis Schools can and should outperform the rest of the state – and by example, lead. We don’t disagree.
But, he hasn’t shared specifics on how to fund all that. Still he’s a compelling candidate, but in the final analysis Hawkins is far too strong a choice to pass up.
The post Advocate Endorsements: Your Ballot is Due May 16, Here’s How We’re Voting appeared first on The Corvallis Advocate.