May 16 Election: Civil Discourse Program Debates Benton County Safety, Justice Ballot Measure

Here's an artist rendering of the proposed safety and justice center that would be built north of downtown Corvallis, along the riverfront near the Hewlett-Packard campus.

Vote Yes on Measure 2-140

Authors: Mackenzie Witnauer, Cheyanne Rider, Alleyah Forrister, and the Civil Discourse Program

Measure 2-140 is on Benton County’s ballot for May 16’s election. This measure proposes the construction of a multi-functional facility centered around safety and justice. Passing Measure 2-140 will provide a central location for first responders, eliminate the cost of leasing spaces to fulfill the county’s needs, and make mental health services more accessible. Because the benefits of passing this measure far outweigh the modest annual cost of about $142 per homeowner, you should vote “yes” on the measure.

Measure 2-140 will financially support the development of a Community Safety & Justice Campus. This campus will provide a new courthouse, sheriff’s office, emergency operations center, and correctional facility. The current county jail was constructed in 1976 and only contains 40 beds. This amount of beds may have been acceptable in 1976 when the county population was 62,300. However, as of 2023, Benton County’s population is now 98,064. Due to limited capacity, the Benton County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) is forced to release many violent offenders. According to BCSO’s most recent data that‘s available online, in 2019, 212 offenders were released due to inadequate bed space. Some of the crimes these offenders are accused of committing include felony assault, felony possession of a firearm, online sex corruption, burglary, robbery, and assault on a public safety officer. This is unsettling for many people and families living in our community. Additionally, Corvallis has seen a rise in property crime and recently experienced a home invasion involving assault and robbery. This increase in criminal activity requires additional resources for law enforcement. The new jail will have 120 beds which will improve public safety and account for decades of population growth.  

This measure will also create a homelessness and navigation center. The center will include case management, health care, behavioral healthcare, employment resources, and affordable housing services. These services will directly support the rising number of homeless people in Benton County. They will also make our county safer. Mackenzie works on 9th street in Corvallis. Every day she opens there are at least three homeless people who appear mentally ill camped out in front of her workplace. After Mackenzie asks them to relocate, they yell at her with foul language, making Mackenzie feel very uncomfortable. Measure 2-140 provides a solution to this unfortunate occurrence that’s proven to work in other communities. Silicon Valley is building similar centers that have already helped place 60% of the homeless population in temporary or permanent housing.  The centers offer on-site behavioral specialists who can help people with mental health and substance abuse. Measure 2-140 will help our community achieve similar results.

Our current facilities in Benton County are outdated and haven’t been significantly updated in over 45 years. It is beyond time for them to be upgraded for the 21st century. Measure 2-140 will construct new facilities that provide a functional jail space, increase mental health services, and create a new center to help the homeless find housing.  These services fulfill vital needs in Benton County.  Vote “yes” on Measure 2-140.

Vote No on Measure 2-140

Authors: Eagle Hunt, Zion Okano, and the Civil Discourse Program

On the surface, there are good reasons to vote “Yes” on Measure 2-140 this month. With the overwhelming amount of advocacy for the passage of this measure, it’s easy to overlook major concerns. After digging a little deeper, here are a few reasons why you should consider voting “No” on Measure 2-140

One big concern is uncertainty about what the measure proposes to achieve. When looking at the Benton County voters’ pamphlet, Measure 2-140 looks amazing. It will solve our jail, mental health, and homelessness crisis, all for $142 a year in property tax! Who wouldn’t want to vote for that? But there is an important point to consider: none of this is guaranteed. If Measure 2-140 is approved, it might accomplish these things. We don’t need this measure passed to help the homeless or expand existing mental health services. The measure primarily focuses on creating new infrastructure instead of increasing the number of people who provide these vital services. Human beings are going to solve these problems, not buildings. Also, the summary in the voters’ pamphlet fails to articulate the percentage of money allocated to each goal. Toward the bottom of page 26, it is argued that a mere 4% of the total cost will be going to social services. Is that true?  The authors of the bill don’t tell us.  When an expensive ballot measure is this vague, it shouldn’t be supported.

Another problem with this measure is that it disproportionately funds jail cells over social services.  The emphasis on mental health in campaign materials seems like an attempt to get people to vote yes. We’re all for increasing funding to community safety, mental health, and services for the homeless. Unfortunately, this measure will not effectively accomplish these goals.  Lane County recently opened a similar “navigation center” and has seen mixed results.  Addressing these complex issues requires lots of money and staff.  If the funds generated by this measure were distributed to proven social services, there would be a stronger argument to vote “Yes.” Instead, Measure 2-140 appears to be an attempt to lock more people up. With May being Mental Health Awareness Month, it is insulting to see mental health used as a tactic to gain support for its passage.

Measure 2-140 will also increase property taxes and rent so more people can be put in jail. This is completely unnecessary. Benton County already has low crime rates. Additionally, increasing incarceration rates doesn’t decrease the rate of crime. Rent is already ridiculously high in Corvallis. With 57% of housing in Corvallis being rentals, it’s highly probable that rent will increase after this measure passes. Eagle’s rent went up $150 this year. He doesn’t want it to go up again next year for a measure with uncertain outcomes. We suspect other renters feel the same.

Measure 2-140 appears to be based on good intentions.  However, due to the measure’s vagueness and its massive imbalance of funding towards jail cells rather than social services, it’s clear that you should vote “No.”

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