OREGON – It is back to the drawing board for the Ogle County Board.
On June 27, the Oregon City Council voted to deny the county's request to close part of 6th Street to build a new county jail. Although the vote was 3-2 in favor of the closure, this vote required a super majority to pass.
Oregon Mayor Ken Williams and commissioners Terry Schuster and Kurt Wilson voted in favor of the closure, while commissioners Jim Barnes and Tom Izer voted against it.
“There was nothing surprising,” Ogle County Board Chairman Kim Gouker said of the vote. “At this point we can't use the street, which is a big problem for us.”
He said the county will still use the planned location for the new jail, which is just west of the Judicial Center on 5th Street. But because it can't close the street, it cannot bring prisoners into the Judicial Center using a secure sallyport as intended. Now the county will have to look at possibly going under or over the street.
“They haven't left us any good options,” Gouker said of the vote, adding that the county will discuss options at the July or August board meeting.
But to Barnes, there was only one option – not closing the street.
“All I know is the people that I represent, my constituents, 99 percent of them say they do not want that jail in downtown Oregon,” Barnes said. “That's what I am fighting for, those people.”
But the county still plans to build the jail downtown, even without the street closure. So what will Barnes do now?
“That I don't know,” he said.
He did say he understands that the county needs a new jail. He just doesn't think a location in downtown Oregon is where it should be. When asked what he would say to those who point out a jail has been in nearly the same location for more than a century, Barnes said just because it has always been there doesn't mean a new one should be there.
But it apparently will be.
“Sixth Street is , by far, the logical location,” said County Board member Ron Colson, who attended the meeting. “Leaving Sixth Street open will have a very negative effect on the cost and efficiency of the building, but by all logic the jail has to be connected to the courts building (by) skyway, tunnel, your choice.”
Gouker said any other option will be “less secure, more costly and less efficient.”
He said delays in the project could mean more money out of county coffers as well, due to increased interest rates and construction costs. Gouker also said jail personnel will have to continue to work in sub-standard conditions in the current jail, which has multiple maintenance issues.
Gouker said it should be noted that the majority of the council did approve the closure, but that the two who voted against it made up their minds months ago – before they even had all of the information on the plan.
“That's a violation of their fiduciary responsibility as elected officials,” Gouker said.
He also said that the threat Barnes made at the meeting about the city not issuing building permits for the jail would be met with legal action if it actually came to pass.
The proposal has a new jail would be build on county-owned land. The city recently approved zoning the property commercial. The jail would house between 180 to 200 prisoners and would cost a total of about $25 million.