As the Oregon Legislature looks to wrap up on Saturday, it will be voting on a capital construction bill that includes $1 million for a new building for the Greater Hermiston Area Chamber of Commerce but no money for a renovation to help the Umatilla County Jail better accommodate mentally ill inmates.
“Needless to say, I’m disappointed,” Sheriff Terry Rowan said.
Rowan had testified before the Joint Ways and Means Committee’s capital construction subcommittee last week, asking for $1 million to upgrade the jail in Pendleton to create new holding, booking and storage areas that would allow the jail to serve inmates suffering a mental health crisis or under the influence of drugs. But the project didn’t make the cut as the bill headed to the House and Senate floors, where it was expected to pass Saturday night or Sunday.
Hermiston, on the other hand, will see $1 million for what is described as the “Hermiston Chamber of Commerce & Western Umatilla County Community Facility.”
In a news release, Rep. Greg Smith of Heppner said the new facility will provide space for community meetings, education and workforce development training events, as well as the headquarters of the chamber of commerce.
“The growing communities of Western Umatilla County continue to need additional meeting and workforce development training space, and I believe this facility will help meet that need,” he said in a statement. “I am also excited this facility can serve as a new home for the Hermiston Chamber of Commerce as they continue their work in supporting local business and community activities.”
After a months-long search the chamber moved to a smaller space in the Cornerstone Plaza on South Highway 395 in January after the city of Hermiston notified them the parks and recreation department would be taking over operations of the Hermiston Conference Center (now being rebranded at the Hermiston Community Center) where the chamber had traditionally been located.
Josh Burns, chair of the chamber board, said the chamber was “very excited” to get the news about the funding for a new building and was grateful to Smith for putting in the request.
“This will benefit our members in a more visible and more suitable space for the chamber that has adequate meeting space as well as the room and the facilities and the technology for workforce development training,” he said. “Personally I’m really excited about this because it will help us create even more value for our members and our city.”
Burns said after the money is officially appropriated, the chamber’s board will work on design and on finding property that will best fit the facility’s purposes.
Since Umatilla County didn’t get funding for the jail, Rowan will be taking a different path. He said when Sen. Bill Hansell called to personally deliver the news, he told Rowan not to give up.
“He had some very positive comments,” Rowan said. “He said the committee felt very positive toward the project, and they recognized the need. He also advised me that some of the projects that did go through, this might be their third or fourth bite of the apple.”
He said he planned to pursue different grants and other funding opportunities and if he didn’t find another way he would be back next session. He said after going to Salem last week to testify he learned a lot for next time. It was difficult to fit all of the information into his two-minute time slot, for example, and so next time he will bring multiple people to help testify.
Hansell and Rep. Greg Barreto of District 58 both showed up to the capital construction committee meeting where Rowan testified in order to express support for the project. Barreto said when he asked the speaker of the house Tina Kotek why the project ultimately did not make the list this session, he didn’t get a concrete answer, but like Hansell he pointed to the fact that it often takes multiple tries to get a capital project funded by the legislature.
“I do think the jail next time around would have a good chance,” Barreto said.
One project that did get funded in Barreto’s district this session is $9 million for a new fieldhouse at Eastern Oregon University in La Grande, as well as $1.1 million for track and field renovations at the university. Students are currently using off-campus facilities for some practices, but when complete the new fieldhouse will provide indoor facilities for track and other outdoor sports as well as more wrestling facilities and instructional space.
Barreto also pointed to $300,000 in funding for Athena’s Gem Theater to finish an ongoing restoration project.
Smith also supported the EOU project, even though it was outside his district. The $9 million project was included in a news release from his office stating that a total of $25 million projects directly benefiting District 57 were passed out of the Joint Ways and Means Committee between the capital construction, budget reconciliation and bond authorization bills. Smith is a co-vice chair of the committee, which oversees the state’s budget.
For Umatilla County, that list also included $6,125,000 for biomass heating upgrades to Camp Umatilla, the National Guard training facility being renovated and expanded on the former Umatilla Chemical Depot. It also included increased funding for the Oregon Food Bank, Center for Violence Prevention Research and Oregon Psychiatric Access Line Program which are seeking to expand their reach into Eastern Oregon with the extra dollars.
A news release from Hansell’s office noted many of the same projects as Barreto and Smith, as well as $50,000 for an elk-culling project near Cold Springs National Refuge. He also pointed to non-capital appropriations for statewide programs that could benefit eastern Oregon residents, including increased dollars for combating sex trafficking, invasive pest eradication, transportation in rural areas, lead testing in daycare facilities, technical assistance grants for eastern Oregon counties, regional solutions and veterans services.
“These investments will help Eastern Oregon build better infrastructure and a strong economy that will help all Eastern Oregonians prosper,” Hansell said in a statement. “Although the Umatilla County Jail project was unsuccessful this session, I intend to bring the request back before the Legislature next session.”
Contact Jade McDowell at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-564-4536.