County, city reach deal to close road for jail

© 2018-Ogle County Life

OREGON – After months of negotiations, the City of Oregon and Ogle County have approved an agreement that will see a portion of Sixth Street in the city closed so the county can build a new jail.

On Dec. 19, the Oregon City Council voted 3-2 for the agreement, and the County Board voted 22-1 for the deal. The “no” votes for the city came from commissioners Jim Barnes and Tom Izer. The one dissenting county vote came from Lee Meyers

“I think the big winner here is the public safety,” said Ogle County Board Chairman Kim Gouker. “That’s really why we wanted sixth street vacated.”

The county now needs approval from the Illinois Department of Transportation to close the block, allowing it to connect the Judicial Center and the proposed new 180-bed, $28 million jail. The buildings will be connected by a sallyport that the county said will provide secure transport of inmates.

The city initially voted to not transfer ownership of that portion of the street to the county. After months of negotiations, the agreement to close the street includes having the county pay for improvements to infrastructure in the area as part of the deal.

That includes rerouting sewer and water lines, and improving the streets and sidewalks in the area around the current jail and the Judicial Center. The total area to see these improvements includes Jefferson Street from Fourth to Sixth; Fifth Street from Washington to Jefferson; and Sixth Street to Madison, Gouker said.

“We plan on doing all of it probably in the spring,” he said of the improvements.

As for the construction of the jail, Gouker said that to get the project completed by the end of 2019 or early 2020, they would need to break ground by the fall of 2018.

Not everyone is pleased with the outcome. Oregon Commissioner Jim Barnes has been a vocal opponent of putting a new jail downtown from the beginning of this process, which started last year and included public meetings across the county.

“I expected it to go that way, when only two of us are speaking for the citizens of Oregon,” Barnes said of himself and Izer. “I think the city could have got more from the county. Right now they are giving into the county for doing a little of this and a little of that.”

Oregon Mayor Ken Williams, who has supported closing the street, said he felt the jail design, which will mirror that of the Judicial Center, will not be a major distraction downtown. He said he was also glad that the county agreed to do improvement in the area.

Williams also said the disagreement on the council was not a concern.

“I never have a problem with someone being passionate for what they do for the love of the city,” he said. “This is a democracy. You are allowed to have differences.”

Gouker, too, said he understood people being opposed to the plan. But he said he heard from others in the county that supported the jail plan.

“Our focus is all of the residents of the county, and their focus was more local,” Gouker said.

Gouker said that during the negotiations, the city proposed the county fix the streets and sidewalks. He said the county engineer surveyed the area and came up with a plan. The county engineer then worked with the city to come up with the final agreement.

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