December 7, 2020
Honorable Governor Kate Brown
900 Court Street NE, Suite 254
Salem, Oregon 97301
Director Leah Horner
900 Court Street NE, Suite 254
Salem, Oregon 97301
Dear Governor Brown,
This letter outlines the potential short-term and long-term negative impacts on the Southern Oregon Coast if the closure of Shutter Creek Correctional Institute (SCCI) occurs in the next biennium. As you likely already know, the South Coast region was struggling economically before the pandemic started, and the closure of Shutter Creek will be another loss for businesses, public entities, and individuals on the South Coast. Ultimately, continued operation of the Shutter Creek facility is the best way to achieve state goals, and to protect the South Coast region and its future.
Shutter Creek directly benefits the local economy in many ways. During the second quarter of 2020, Shutter Creek provided approx. 83 jobs. During the most recent year (2Q 2019 to 2Q 2020), Shutter Creek represented about 0.3% of Coos County payroll employment (22,708). The average wage per job at Shutter Creek over the 2Q 2019 to 2Q 2020 period was $74,972 compared to the average wage for all payroll jobs in Coos County ($41,600). Total payroll for Shutter Creek 2Q 2019 to 2Q 2020 was $6,191,583, and for the whole county total payroll was $944,625,800, Shutter Creek represented about 0.6% of total Coos County payroll for the four-quarter period ending 2Q 2020. These are high-paying jobs that support families, businesses and taxing districts, and these Shutter Creek wages and contracts are spent locally, enabling existing businesses to remain in operation within our surrounding small rural communities.
The closure of the Shutter Creek facility will also negatively impact local governments and public services as well as the citizens within those jurisdictions. SCCI not only is a customer of the City of Lakeside for their wastewater, but they are also Lakeside’s largest wastewater customer. Approximately 22% of the City of Lakeside’s wastewater revenues are derived from the Shutter Creek facility, which is equal to about $225,000 annually. As you may know, Lakeside has initiated plans to relocate and replace its wastewater treatment plant at the urging of DEQ. The estimated cost of this new facility will be more than $10 million. This could permanently delay these plans without the revenue from Shutter Creek. This will also negatively impact individual citizens of Lakeside and surrounding unincorporated Coos County, as the City will be forced to significantly raise rates for its other wastewater customers in order to come close to matching the revenue generated by SCCI’s wastewater.
Another public service where SCCI plays a critical role is in local fire mitigation and prevention. Each year, SCCI crews assist the Oregon Department of Forestry at major fire incidents. Inmates also work with Coos Forest Protective Association, assisting with ground maintenance and wildland firefighting in the tri-county area. Ultimately, the higher value for inmates is this experience decreases recidivism. They receive hands-on job training and work side-by-side with professionals developing skills that help them work. Former inmates have found work on reforestation and firefighting crews not just in Coos County businesses, but statewide.
Other local entities that would be negatively impacted by the closure of Shutter Creek include Southwestern Oregon Community College (SWOCC), local school districts, surrounding local governments, and the inmates themselves. Closing SCCI could lead to lay off of SWOCC faculty who teach in the correctional institute – a $167,000 annual wage/benefits loss. These instructors have helped 198 SCCI inmates earn their GEDs over the past three years. The college enrolls approximately 55 students annually in its criminal justice program, some of whom likely pursue careers in this field. Southwestern also injects $14,000 annually into SCCI revenues and in support of inmates. It hires a work crew twice annually to help with grounds maintenance on the 160-acre campus to control vegetation and lessen fire danger to surrounding neighborhoods.
Existing investments in educational infrastructure are directly dependent on Shutter Creek because, as a minimum-security facility, it provides school districts — and local and state government agencies — in Coos, Curry, Douglas, Lane, and occasionally Jackson and Josephine Counties with reliable access to comparatively inexpensive (and enthusiastic) maintenance crews. Shutter Creek provides the only work crews readily available to much of the South Coast, allowing a wide variety of infrastructure investments to be maintained under reduced budgets. For example, the City of Coos Bay estimates that its use of Shutter Creek crews for maintenance of parks and other facilities saved the City at least $40,000 last year. The value of these crews to the region is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that more than 40 crew contracts with various entities are currently in effect.
Thank you for taking the time to read and consider this information regarding a potential closure of Shutter Creek Correctional Institute. We understand the state is faced with the difficult task of balancing a deficit budget, and our rural area has already been heavily impacted by job loss from the closure of the Georgia Pacific Mill, and loss of approx. 110 living wages job, just 18 months ago and the loss of tourism revenues from the pandemic.
In rural Oregon, and on the South Coast, every job counts, and the continued operation of Shutter Creek Correctional Institute means preservation of jobs, businesses and a community fabric that has developed over many years.