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Springfield's bold move.

Byline: The Register-Guard

Lane County officials may not like Springfield's decision to take corrections matters into the city's own hands - and out of the county's - but they have to admire the forceful, innovative leadership that pulled it off.

Frustrated by the revolving door at the county jail and the city's stratospheric property crime rate, the Springfield City Council asked city residents to pay $28.7 million to build a new downtown public safety center that includes a 100-bed jail.

The measure not only passed, it passed by a substantial margin at a time when many other money measures were exploding like shotgunned skeet across the county and state. And it passed in a community that has previously demonstrated its willingness to shoot down tax proposals.

Even more surprising is the fact that Springfield residents voted in favor of a jail that might never be built. While city officials plan to proceed with building the new police station and municipal court, they have pledged not to build the jail portion of the project - or issue the bonds needed to do so - until they devise a way to pay for the estimated $1.4 million in operating costs.

They also have said the jail won't be built if the county finds a way to expand its jail capacity and satisfy the city's corrections needs.

In approving the public safety measure, Springfield voters made an impressive statement of trust in the city's leadership. Now, the City Council and administration must demonstrate that trust was merited by not only showing that it can cover operations costs, but also by proving that its estimates, which county corrections officials have warned may be low, are accurate.

Meanwhile, county officials, in particular those who have insisted that corrections should be addressed at the county and not municipal level, now have a prime opportunity to demonstrate their own leadership by resolving the county's shortage of jail beds.

County commissioners, who have tolerated an intolerable corrections status quo for far too long, have talked recently about creating a countywide public service district that would address the jail-bed shortage and an array of other public safety concerns. But so far, the commissioners have been long on talk and short on action.

Any attempt to form a public safety district would face serious obstacles, the most daunting of which would be convincing county voters to go along with creating a new layer of local government and increasing taxes to pay for it. That's hardly an attractive prospect for county officials who haven't passed a money measure for nearly a decade.

Commissioners should be open to other possibilities, as well. For example, the county might consider cooperating with Springfield's jail project, perhaps even leasing beds from the city in an arrangement similar to the one in which the city has leased jail beds from the county in the past.

That may or may not be a viable strategy. The point is that commissioners should be bold and innovative in addressing the county's corrections crisis - just as Springfield was in deciding to build its own jail.
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Title Annotation:Editorials; County should now address jail-bed shortage
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Nov 7, 2004
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