By editorial board • 

County space needs demand serious look

Sometimes today’s great idea morphs into tomorrow’s bad plan. Sometimes too much of a good thing eventually becomes bad.

So it is, we fear, with Yamhill County’s inexorable sprawl through historic neighborhoods along the north flank of McMinnville’s nationally heralded downtown.
Led by its ever-expanding Health and Human Services Department, the county has been obtaining swaths of McMinnville housing stock over the years, erasing it from the tax rolls and converting it into office space.

That practice blocks downtown expansion in the most workable direction.

It also evicts a potential downtown consumer base in favor of county employees and service users, who appropriate hundreds of high-value parking spaces.

Acquiring modest nearby office space for expanding programs made sense in 1988 or 1998. But the cost and impact have grown to the point where it may no longer succeed in 2018.

We say “may” because the county has been governed in recent years by commissioners more inclined to gaze backward than forward, to eschew any semblance of planning, goal-setting or central control, to cling stubbornly to an aimless status quo. As a consequence, the county has never undertaken any serious analysis of its past, present and future space needs, let alone alternative ways to address them.

Fortunately, the winds of change finally seem to blow in the right direction.

With Casey Kulla replacing Stan Primozich as the third commissioner, and Ken Huffer succeeding Laura Tschabold as the chief administrator, the county may have a renewed level of foresight and be more proactive. That includes commissioning a professional evaluation of its space needs going forward — something both Kulla and fellow commissioner Rick Olson have been championing.

If the study shows the county is already on a sound course, all things considered, so be it. At least continued encroachment into McMinnville’s close-in neighborhoods will be based on fact rather than gut feeling.

The alternative would be development of a centralized office complex elsewhere.

Old-guard commissioners have accused anyone open to that possibility of advocating for a grandiose Taj Mahal at taxpayer expense. But the same commissioners routinely authorize acquisition of aging structures requiring extensive renovation and expensive upkeep, without ever weighing an overall price tag running many millions of dollars.

Just last week, Health and Human Services asked the board for $69,000 to cover a cost overrun on one of a pair of recent close-in acquisitions. The board had previously allocated $740,000 for purchase of the buildings and another $829,000 for renovation, plus $95,219 for an earlier cost overrun. So the county is already well over $1.5 million into the project, and there is no end in sight.

And that’s just one of a broad array the county has been pouring tax dollars into. The price of this one might make a substantial downpayment on a new county office complex that the price of the rest would readily cover. The county should at least explore the idea.


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