Franklin County commissioners said Wednesday that they aren't interested in a seven-year lease for a new crisis response unit location if there isn't a better opt-out clause.
Commissioner Brad Peck said he didn't like that the only way to get out of the lease would be if the Benton-Franklin Department of Human Services were to be abolished.
Benton County commissioners approved the lease agreement Tuesday.
Peck said the lease would cost more than $800,000 during the course of seven years.
"You're asking us to put almost a million dollars of taxpayer money into a facility I believe we could build for twice that?" Peck asked human services director Ed Thornbrugh. "I think you're doing a great job, I just can't get behind this one."
Commissioner Rick Miller agreed.
"I've been a commissioner for seven years," he said. "I know that in seven years a lot can change."
Commissioner Bob Koch said he would have liked to approve the lease, but didn't want to push the issue.
"I don't know that we're in a position to build a $2 million building," he told the Herald. "I think we need to move out of where we're at. It's antiquated and not in a good area."
The crisis response center provides mental health intervention services, including grief counseling, referrals and emergency assistance with psychiatric medications.
The lease for the space at 500 N. Morain St. in Kennewick -- which is where the agency would like to move to -- would cost the human services department $9,862 a month, with an increase of up to 3 percent each year after that, Thornbrugh said.
That is an increase over the $4,600 per month the department pays now for space on Deschutes Avenue, though the department has to pay an extra $1,800 monthly for a high-speed fiber optic T-1 phone line that it wouldn't have to pay for at the new site.
Commissioners instructed Thornbrugh to go back and try to change the lease for the Morain Street location to allow for a way out if needed. Thornbrugh said he would be able to continue operations in the existing space at the same monthly rate.
The Morain Street location would be closer to other government and social services, Thornbrugh said.
-- Commissioners voted to start work as soon as possible on rebuilding a county-owned gravel road damaged by an Aug. 30 breach of an irrigation canal. They disagreed on what action should be taken against the South Columbia Basin Irrigation District, which owns the canal.
Peck said that the irrigation district either should pay to rebuild the quarter-mile stretch of Cypress Lane or pay to shore up its canal to prevent future accidents.
"Act of God or not, I think there's pretty solid basis for saying that if you're an independent taxing authority and you're operating a structure in the county and the condition in which you keep it and the manner with which you operate it results in damage to other people's property, you probably should be held liable," Peck said.
Commission Chairman Rick Miller, who represents the affected area in the northwestern part of the county, said he was concerned about the cost to farmers if the irrigation district is sued, as well as the legal costs for the county.
"The irrigation will suffer, the district will suffer and the perception is not that good," Miller told the Herald.
Damage to the road was estimated at $170,000.
-- Commissioners discussed a security system for the new jail complex. Peck was concerned because people visiting inmates on weekends won't have to go through metal detectors under the plan proposed by the sheriff's office.
Visitors won't have direct contact with inmates in the new facility, said Capt. Rick Long, who manages the jail for the sheriff's office. They instead will speak to them on video monitors set up in the lobby of the building.
Peck questioned why visitors would have to come into the building at all with the new system, since they could access the feed to inmates from any place with an Internet connection.
"Our troops in the Middle East can do video screening with their families back home," he said. "If it's good enough for them, it's darn sure good enough for our inmates."
-- Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom