LAKEVIEW, Ore. — Leaders in Lake County have formed a coalition aimed at saving a state prison in Lakeview from impending closure amid coming budget cuts in the Oregon legislature.
Facing a massive budget shortfall due to coronavirus-related economic impacts, legislators have been drafting up plans on where to make cuts over the next several years. Both the Warner Creek Correctional Facility in Lakeview and the Shutter Creek Correctional Institution in North Bend would eventually be closed under the initial budget proposals.
Warner Creek is a minimum security prison opened in 2005 and designed to hold just over 400 inmates. It employs more than 100 people in rural Lake County, and represents an economic boon to the Lakeview area measured in millions of dollars per year.
On Thursday, Lake County Commissioners announced the advent of the "Warner Creek Coalition" — a group with representatives from the County, the town of Lakeview, Lake Health District, the local Chamber of Commerce, Lake County School District, and Warner Creek staff.
"The coalition was established to provide a rural voice for the public welfare and economic well-being of the county in support of keeping the Warner Creek Correctional facility open and operational," the Coalition said in a statement. "The coalition will call for Governor Kate Brown to keep Warner Creek Correctional Facility open for the remainder of the current biennium and remain on the budget for the 2021-2023 biennium."
The initial Oregon budget proposal, drafted by the co-chairs of the Joint Committee on Ways and Means, would immediately close Shutter Creek in North Bend. Warner Creek, on the other hand, would remain "open for the remainder of the current biennium," but would likely close during the 2021-23 biennium.
The Warner Creek Coalition has created a Facebook page to organize support for keeping the prison open and deliver updates about the still-evolving budget cuts.
"These next few months are critical for every person to be actively involved to create the most influence on the future legislative budget decisions that will adversely affect our local economy," the Coalition said.
The group says that it has requested a meeting with Governor Brown in an effort to stop the prison closure.
"We are very aware that the State of Oregon is facing a budget crisis — however, we do not believe that placing Lakeview's already fragile economy in a tailspin is good for this town, county or the state," former County commissioner Jane O'Keefe wrote in a post.
Much of the proposed changes to Oregon's budget so far consist of shuffling funds, scaling back planned expansions of state programs, and freezing employment of new staff at various agencies. The closure of Shutter Creek and Warner Creek represent some of the biggest outright cuts to existing facilities or programs.
Beyond people that Warner Creek employs directly, the Coalition says that dozens of jobs are indirectly associated with the prison. At least 60 homes are rented or owned in Lake County by prison employees, and almost 100 children of employees go to school in either Lakeview or Paisley.