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Linn County Juvenile Dept. reports results of school closures

Linn County Juvenile Director Torri Lynn told the board of commissioners Tuesday morning, April 23, that the two-year school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic had detrimentally affected local youth.

He said that the county’s juvenile department has seen an increase in referrals – 59 in April, which seemed to be trending as normal this year – since schools returned to full session, with students exhibiting significant behavioral issues, ones he believed could be linked to isolation and a dearth of positive role models.

Board Chairman Randy Nyquist asked if the closures had been a bad idea.

“Absolutely,” Lynn replied, adding that he’d argued the same thing when they were first proposed two years ago.

“During the COVID closures, we only saw the highest flyers,” he said. “We talked about this, that we might lose kids educationally and others would be on the edge. We probably won’t get those kids back.”

Commissioner Sherrie Sprenger asked about combatting what appeared to be an escalating issue.

According to Lynn, early intervention and appropriate response would be key. However, he added, staffing was difficult.

Overall, 206 young people were on probation or pending court appearances. Some 47 were assessed as high-risk.

Last month, the six-member Tier 1 work crew completed 115 hours of community service while the 19-member Tier II crew finished 466 hours.

In other business, the commissioners:

♦ Approved a request to extend a property tax exemption from its current three years to five years for ATI SAC in Millersburg, as part of the enterprise zone. The company plans to spend almost $83 million for new equipment and plant modifications to double the output of one of their products. The project will add 40 jobs that pay at least 150% of the county’s average annual wage. Normally, the project would need to increase current staffing by 10%, or 80 employees. However, there’s an exemption for projects that cost more than $25 million.

♦ Approved a request by the Linn County Sheriff’s Office to accept a “SatRunner Cell-on-Wheels,” a portable communications tool that can be used to provide cell phone and Wi-Fi services during disasters. The free unit is one of 11 in the state, and the county would pay a fee only if it was used on a non-emergency basis over 15 gigs of data.

♦ Gave new Linn County Parks & Recreation Director Stacey Whaley authority to sign grant and other types of project applications. Whaley pointed to two upcoming projects, a proposed rebuilding of the McCartney boat ramp on the Willamette River near Harrisburg and a new RV dump station in Sweet Home. The Parks Department is also bidding to take over maintenance and operations of 26 U.S. Forest Service campgrounds in Linn and Marion counties. Linn already manages six Forest Service campgrounds near Cascadia, with income doubling over the past 12 years.

♦ Approved the Linn County Sheriff’s Office request to transfer $252,000 from contingency to personal services and materials to make year-end payroll adjustments.

♦ Approved an $11,656 intergovernmental agreement with the Oregon Judicial Department for reimbursement of the Linn County General Services staff’s courtroom 5 jury-box remodel.

– Alex Paul, Linn County Communications Officer