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Jail issue finally settled: County, city agree to close part of street

OREGON – The long-debated question of whether to close part of a city street for the new Ogle County Jail has finally been settled.

Both the county board and the Oregon City Council approved an intergovernmental agency agreement Tuesday night that transfers jurisdiction over the 100 block of South Sixth Street in Oregon from the city to the county.

This means the county can move forward with its plans to close the block and connect the new jail to the existing judicial center across the street.

The last hurdle will be securing approval from the Illinois Department of Transportation to close the block.

The plan, which faced fierce opposition from some Oregon residents including two city commissioners, has discussed for more than a year.

Preliminary plans call for the breaking ground for the new 180-bed jail, with an estimated price tag of $28 million, in the fall of 2018.

The county board approved the agreement first on Tuesday, by a vote of 22-1, with board member Lee Meyers casting the only no vote. Kim Whalen did not attend the meeting.

The City Council then approved the agreement 3-2, with commissioners Jim Barnes and Tom Izer voting no, as they did in a previous vote last June.

Mayor Ken Williams and commissioners Terry Schuster and Kurt Wilson voted yes.

Before the vote, Barnes made an impassioned plea to his fellow commissioners to reject the agreement.

“If we vote in favor of this, we are yielding to the county board without even an argument, let alone a fight,” he said. “We are selling out Oregon to the county. We are not doing justice for most of the citizens of Oregon … I really cannot believe this is happening.”

Part of the agreement is that the county will pay for street improvements near the courthouse, judicial center, and new jail.

It will pay to repave Jefferson Street from Fourth to Sixth street, Fifth Street from Washington to Jefferson, and Sixth Street south to Madison, and replace gutters and sidewalks in those blocks.

County board chairman Kim Gouker said the county also will pay to reroute sewer and water mains affected by the street closure. 

The total cost for those projects is estimated at $600,000.

Gouker said the city and county engineers and attorneys worked together on forging the agreement.

“This is in the best interests of both of us,” he said.

Williams said the agreement was the result of several months of negotiations, and he asked that residents respect the passion others have for their city even when they disagree.

“Tonight’s vote was not about where the jail should go, that was decided 7 months ago,” he said. “Tonight’s vote was to decide whether to allow the county to acquire Sixth Street or risk a long court action.”

“The strong argument about the character and beauty of our downtown and surrounding neighborhoods was a good one and the county agreed,” he said.

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