The Community Corrections Transition Center got the green light Wednesday from the Clatsop County commissioners, who accepted a contractor's bid for the long-delayed project.

The approval includes a funding plan that will require county departments to make their vehicles and computers last a bit longer for the county to come up with enough money to pay for the project, which will cost considerably more than originally planned.

The commissioners approved the contract after a lengthy presentation by county staff, which included an appearance by former county Community Corrections Director Danny Jordan, who proposed the transition center project five years ago.

"It's exciting," Jordan said of the board's vote. Jordan left Clatsop County a year ago to take a new position with Jackson County, but has stayed in contact with officials here over the transition center and other community corrections issues.

Sara Fasoldt, Jordan's successor at the Community Corrections Department, was also happy that the project is finally going forward.

"This will increase the capacity of the criminal justice system," she said.

Construction of the center, a 30-bed residential treatment facility designed as an alternative to jail for probation violators and other offenders, will begin next month at the North Coast Business Park in Warrenton. The center is set to open in mid-2006.

The commissioners approved the $2.6 million bid from 2KG Construction of Milwaukie. Together with increased architect fees and other costs, the total project price tag is $2.9 million, about $1 million more than was budgeted this year.

To come up with the needed extra funds, county officials put together a package that includes transferring an extra $100,000 a year for five years from the Special Projects Fund, which contains the county's share of state timber dollars. Because that fund pays for equipment purchases, county staff has suggested that to save money for the transition center, computers be replaced every five years, instead of the current four-year program, and that county vehicles, including patrol cars for the sheriff's office, be replaced less often.

The extra Special Projects funds will help repay a $611,000 loan from the Rural Law Enforcement District, the biggest source of extra money found to cover the transition center's higher cost. The district, which has its own tax base, provides extra funding for the county sheriff's office operations. The district's board of directors voted earlier this month to approve the five-year, 3.5-percent-interest loan, which will come from its reserve fund.

Other funding sources for the project already lined up include another $1 million from Special Projects, a $615,000 state grant, and $300,000 saved up by the Community Corrections Department. The new funding plan includes another $100,000 from Community Corrections.

County Administrator Scott Derickson noted that Sheriff Tom Bergin has already agreed to alter his vehicle replacement program to free up Special Projects dollars.

Bergin told the board he wanted to counter reports that he opposed the transition center project. Though he called the facility "an awful fancy place to house cons" and questioned the high construction costs, he said the new facility is "well needed and well thought-out by Mr. Jordan."

The project received a thumbs-up from the county commissioners when it was proposed in 2000, but a variety of roadblocks, most notably the county's costly dispute with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over alleged damage to wetlands at the North Coast Business Park, halted progress. The county and Corps eventually reached a settlement that required the county to replace wetlands at the park, but it took the Corps another eight months to approve the necessary permits for the project, according to Dave Dieffenbach, county capital improvements project manager.

The 2KG bid was roughly $500,000 higher than the engineering estimate. Costs were higher than anticipated in several areas, including site work, foundation and mechanical installations, Dieffenbach said. "The bidding climate is tight right now," he said. "People are busy."

Working with the contractor, the county was able to identify $157,000 worth of savings in the $2.6 million contract, from eliminating a flagpole to changing the plumbing and ventilation systems.

Commissioner Helen Westbrook opposed the cost-cutting measures, noting that the county used similar "value engineering" to trim expenses on the new county animal shelter and ended up with a facility with faulty equipment.

"I didn't think we had a fancy system designed," she said of the transition center. "To back $150,000 out of it now is, I think, a tremendous mistake."

The commissioners agreed to limit the cuts to $100,000, and left it up to county staff to work out which items to add back.

County staff offered the commissioners the option of rejecting the bids and re-bidding the project, but Central Services Director Mike Robison noted that when the county followed that path with the remodel of the former health department building, the new bids came in higher than the original bids.

The transition center will provide housing and space for various treatment programs for low-level offenders such as parole and probation violators, as well as convicts returning to the community after serving jail and prison terms.

Explaining how the transition center's operations will be funded, Jordan said the amount of state funding coming to the Community Corrections Department has more than doubled since 2001, to $2.5 million for the current two-year funding period, due in large part to the huge increase in the department's caseload, and the state support should continue to grow in the future. Jordan said he boosted the department's caseload with an eye to gaining funding for the transition center.

"This is the big part of how this thing gets funded," he said.

Part of Community Corrections' state support is used to rent jail beds in Tillamook County. That money will go to support the transition center operations.

Residents of the center can also be charged daily fees for their housing and meals, which Jordan calculated could eventually bring in $150,000 a year.