MY VOICE: The county should proceed to build
I attended Shelter From the Storm’s “family justice campus” meeting on July 31, but left with more questions than answers.
After years of advocating for a desperately needed new courthouse, our community leaders have finally succeeded in obtaining $2 million in funding to build one. Last Wednesday, two months before the courthouse construction is set to begin, the shelter released an “alternative proposal” for a “campus” which would draw together the multitude of organizations and agencies which deal with domestic violence victims, at an estimated cost of $25 million. The shelter has a map, and even a multiphase plan for implementing its proposal. There are just a few problems.
First, the shelter has presented only a map with building outlines. They don’t have even a single building plan, and therefore, no real clue as to the actual cost of its proposed grand plan.
The shelter touts that it has raised $6 million in the past 24 years, so it suggests that bringing in the $25 million for its family justice campus should be no problem. At the shelter’s current rate of fundraising, their proposed campus will be fully funded and operational in about 2114. The fact is, the shelter wants to scrap a funded and viable courthouse plan, which has been years in the making, and to replace it with a vague alternative, with no funding to back up its proposal.
The shelter claims that its plan will bring together all of its community partners, including the courts, the police, the sheriff, the district attorney, the victims’ assistance program, medical facilities, Community Connections, the Department of Human Services and the Center for Human Development. But every one of these agencies already has its own facilities. I work with many of these agencies, but didn’t see their representatives at the forum. Do any of them want to relocate to the proposed campus? The shelter’s printouts state that the information presented at the town hall meeting was “presented in its entirety by Shelter From the Storm and is by no means meant to imply that its plans have been vetted or approved by any other agencies, organizations or parties.” That seems to suggest that at this point, two months before construction, only the shelter is on board with its vast plan to relocate approximately 15 entities to locations of the shelter’s choosing.
Another problem: The county’s grant for replacing the existing courthouse must be “shovel ready” on Oct. 1 or the county will lose the $2 million grant. The county is ready. It has a building plan, sited for the county property, including the shelter’s present location. But two short months before deadline, the shelter is proposing that the county build a different courthouse on a different location with different dimensions. Building plans take time and cost money. With the deadline looming, the shelter presented no courthouse building plan for its proposed site and not even a proposal about who should pay for producing one.
Fifteen years ago, the shelter received a grant that enabled it to have a facility constructed on county property. For 15 years, the shelter has resided there rent free. A responsible shelter management might have seen that windfall as a means to get ahead: If the shelter had saved back the equivalent of a rent payment every month for the past 15 years, it would now be a position to purchase its own facility outright. Instead, the shelter spent the windfall and now is refusing to vacate county property — clearly believing the law that applies to other people shouldn’t apply to them, apparently willing to jeopardize substantial funding that would benefit our entire community, and evidently believing that the county, which has provided them rent-free facilities for 15 years, somehow owes them more and more. It seems like an odd way to build community support.
We have funding with which to build a courthouse. We have land on which to build it. Faced with a two-month deadline, the shelter does not have a concrete alternative or any funding to implement its “dream campus.”
The county should proceed to build.
Anne Morrison is an attorney in La Grande.