Larry Wilson, Malheur County commissioner, and Dan Joyce, Malheur County judge. (The Enterprise/Joe Siess)

Public sentiment overwhelmingly favors a public vote on any plan by Malheur County to invest $14 million of county funds in industrial development, according to an online survey conducted by the Malheur Enterprise.

Nearly 8 out of 10 respondents said there should be a vote. Another 14% think commissioners should act on spending only after conducting public hearings. 

Only 2% think the members of the Malheur County Court – Judge Dan Joyce, Commissioner Larry Wilson and Commissioner Don Hodge – should make such spending decisions on their own. 

COMMENTS: Survey respondents have plenty to say

The survey, not a scientific sampling of the public, drew more than 150 responses and tested public sentiment about the county’s industrial plans. The county is developing the Treasure Valley Reload Center outside of Nyssa and also wants to create an adjacent industrial park. County officials recently told state officials they intended to use $14 million in county funds to put in streets, utilities and buildings for the industrial park.

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The county has access to $26 million in state funds for the rail shipping center, now projected to open sometime in 2023. County officials are proposing to take nearly $1 million from the county contingency fund to buy a 290-acre parcel that will be home to the rail center and the industrial park.

The survey showed splits in public support for the two projects. About 42% favor the shipping center while 44% oppose the project. For the industrial project, 52% oppose and 33% support the county’s plan. The divide in strong feelings about the industrial development is stark. One out of three respondents “strongly oppose” the county industrial park and 1 out of 10 “strongly support” it.

More than 100 respondents left remarks on what they would like the county court to publicly address.

There were many questions about where the county would get money to build the industrial park and what the return to taxpayers would be.

“If the county and public know the full risk and costs going in, and weigh that against the potential benefit and still decide to move forward, great. But we haven’t had anything close to a full picture on this,” said one respondent.

“Cost overruns and “we’ll take it from your savings account” dealing are unacceptable,” wrote another survey taker. “To get this back on track, I want a full, public audit from the secretary of state’s office with a focus on accountability.”

Several commenters asked for more openness by county officials.

“Just be honest with taxpayers. Nothing seems to be transparent,” one person wrote.

Here are results of an online survey conducted by the Malheur Enterprise that drew more than 150 responses. (Enterprise graphic/Hayden Cox)

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