County Makes “Last, Best” Offer For Justice System Land Before Eminent Domain Filing

On March 1, Benton County Commissioners unanimously approved the use of eminent domain as a way to obtain the land they wanted to build the new Justice System. Now, the Commissioners have said they are offering $5.477 million for the 29.53 acres of land sitting about a mile north of downtown – calling it their “last and best offer.”  

This would equate to paying just over $185,470 per acre – a bit higher than the $75,000 per acre Land Watch found in Monroe. However, this acreage is where the county wants to build after spending a year-and-a-half looking at many options. 

The facilities Benton County wants to build on this land include mental health services as well as a new courthouse, emergency operations center, sheriff’s offices, and a new correctional facility with several more beds. 

Currently, the courthouse has 50% of its funding coming from a state grant, with the county coming up with the other 50% through a “loan” that will be paid off through the General Fund.  

The other facilities will be part of a bond measure which voters should see on their ballots come May of 2023. 

Eminent Domain 

When the choice to declare eminent domain for this land was made, it started a series of steps prescribed by the state to ensure the landowners are fairly compensated.  

It began with the county declaring that this specific land is necessary and critical to the public interest. Now, Benton County is at the point where they have made their “last and best” offer – an amount they consider a fair price. This declaration will move the discussion over the land into the eminent domain process. 

“This decision is a result of a multi-year planning process and will ensure we meet the timeline required to leverage millions of dollars in matching funds from the State of Oregon for new justice facilities,” Board of Commissioner Chair Nancy Wyse said in a press release. “While a negotiated sale would be ideal, the Board of Commissioners believe this is a fair offer to the current owner based on independent appraisal.” 

The property owners have 40 days from receiving the offer to accept or reject it. If they accept the offer, then things move forward. If they reject the offer, then the county will begin an eminent domain filing in court. 

Construction 

The first building on the site when the land sale goes through will be a new courthouse. The goal is to begin construction in late summer of 2022 – meaning very soon. 

The other four buildings and the jail will begin construction at a later date. 

Benton County Sheriff Van Arsdall said, “We all want safe and healthy communities, and it’s important that we do it in a way that reflects our values and makes wise use of limited operational funds. We expect that this new campus will support cross-agency efficiencies, improve emergency response, and ensure that criminal offenders are both held accountable and provided with opportunities to get treatment for issues they may be facing, including mental health or addiction.” 

The Old Buildings 

The courthouse is an historic building and will therefore not be demolished. A committee has been formed to find a new purpose for the building.  

If you would like to stay informed about the Justice System Improvement Plan, you can sign up for updates here. 

By Sally K Lehman 

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