A healthy challenge

Jackson County's potential plan to buy the post office building in downtown Medford has a lot to recommend it — if a number of concerns can be addressed.

The county's health and human services offices are scattered in multiple locations, as are state agencies that provide similar services. Consolidating them all in one building would make a great deal of sense. County officials note that health services operations are outgrowing their present locations and will need to seek new space in any case.

The federal government, which owns the 80,000-square-foot building now, has put it on the market as part of its effort to consolidate post office operations across the country. The post office could conceivably remain there even if the county bought the building, but also could move.

The idea of consolidating state and county health and human services operations under one roof is very attractive. But a number of hurdles stand in the way.

Financing: The county has money in its health and human services budget dedicated for building purchase and remodeling, and could issue revenue bonds as well, if it could rent out enough space to make the bond payments and retire the debt. That only works if the state agencies agree to move in — a question mark given the state's precarious financial condition.

The county can issue revenue bonds without a public vote because paying them off requires no contribution from taxpayers — as long as the income is sufficient.

  • Parking: As envisioned by county officials, the building could house 750 employees in all. And that doesn't count the members of the public who would visit the building for health care and other services. Concentrating that many people in one place could cause a huge parking problem — unless the county can figure out how to pay for another parking structure.
  • Existing locations: Moving that many employees would open up a great deal of existing office space in a still-struggling economy. County officials say they would sell some of the other properties, but that could prove difficult given the state of the real estate market.

All in all, it's a grand vision — "one-stop shopping" for public health and social services, as Commissioner C.W. Smith put it. It would improve efficiency — something government is constantly criticized for lacking. None of the concerns we've mentioned is insurmountable, but all the parties involved have to work together to make the deal work.

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