County asking state for help on veterans home

Sean C. Morgan

The Linn County Board of Commissioners is asking the state Legislature to be fair to Linn County property owners and provide money for the construction of a new veterans’ home in Lebanon.

Linn County voters approved a local option levy last year to help pay for construction of a new veterans home while Douglas County received state lottery dollars to pay for its share of a second home in Roseburg.

The 150-bed facility, 86,500 square feet, will be constructed by the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs at an estimated cost of about $30 million. The home will be located on 10 acres north of Pioneer School in Lebanon, adjacent to the Health Sciences Campus and Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital. The complex, called Patriots Place, will include 10 to 15 one-story housing units, an administration building, community center and recreational facilities. Each unit, about 7,500 square feet, will serve 10 veterans.

As part of the site selection process, the agency looked for a commitment for about 35 percent in local matching funds. The federal Department of Veterans’ Affairs will provide the remainder of the funding.

The matching funds, including the match requirement and cost of the land, is approximately $12 million and will be provided by an internal loan from the Linn County Road Fund, which has a balance of about $33 million.

The loan would be repaid over 10 years by the local option levy, 19 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

The original proposal was for a 250-bed facility, but the project was broken into two parts, one in Roseburg and one in Lebanon.

When the prospectus on the home came out, the state Legislature “swore up and down” that it could not help, said Commissioner John Lindsey. A local match was part of the site selection process.

“The board guaranteed the loan because we felt the citizens of Linn County would pass a levy, which they did,” Lindsey said.

Linn County was committed to the project, he said. The commissioners knew the levy was going to hurt other local option levies, like the Sweet Home police and library levies and the sheriff’s levy, “but it was going to have an impact on the county to the good.”

The board felt like legislative leadership tried to undercut Linn County by forcing the project to be split with Roseburg and by funding Douglas County’s contribution, Lindsey said. “They knew Douglas County would never raise the money to build the veterans’ home.”

Last session, the Legislature passed a nine-page spending bill for lottery funds, “the lottery porkulus bill,” and provided $10.5 million to Douglas County, Lindsey said. “This was right after the Linn County Board of Commissioners campaigned to pass a levy. I’m offended, and the board, as a body, finds this offensive.

“To create a second-tier group of citizens known as the citizens of Linn County is obscene. This bill (HB 5036) has left me such a bad taste in my mouth. In my 13 years serving Linn County citizens, I have never seen anything so offensive to the citizens of Linn County.”

Linn County would like the same treatment, Lindsey said, and securing lottery funds for the veterans’ home is a county priority in the 2012 legislative session.

All but one of Linn County’s legislators voted for the lottery bill last session, Lindsey said. “We’ve got eight legislators. They’d better vote for this.”