Judicial center expansion ballot question in works
A quarter-cent sales tax is being proposed to pay for the $31.6 million renovation and expansion of the Judicial Law Enforcement Center in Minden.
Douglas County commissioners voted to have staff write the resolution required to get the tax on the November ballot.
According to County Manager Larry Werner, the tax would raise $1.5 to $1.6 million a year to pay for the bond required to pay for the project.
East Fork Justice of the Peace Tom Perkins told commissioners that his court is one of the last large single-justice courts in the state.
East Fork Township’s population has qualified it for a second justice since at least the turn of the century. Under state law, adding the second justice is automatic unless the sitting justice of the peace sends in a letter saying it’s not necessary.
“This project has consequences whether it’s approved or not,” Perkins said. “I’m confident my successor will insist on a second judge. I’m confident that the district attorney will be seeking more room.”
Perkins is not seeking another term as justice of the peace.
He said the county could add another courtroom to the building, but that the other agencies there would still require additional room.
“That would just be a Band-aid that would have financial consequences overt the years, and those consequences could have a bigger impact.”
The 35-year-old building was built using a bond in 1982 after the county was sued over the state of the jail in the basement of the historic Minden courthouse.
Newly elected Commission Chairman Steve Thaler said he didn’t feel the commission could continue the effort.
“What we can’t do is fund this on a year-to-year basis,” he said. “If we set aside $1 million a year for 30 years, 30 years later it won’t cost $30 million, it will cost $60 million.”
The county could also increase the utility operator fee, but Werner said that was the least popular proposal when discussing the connectivity debate.
McCullough said adding a third story to the building would still not be enough room, so it would have to go up two stories, and would require a substantial refit to the building.
Commissioner Barry Penzel challenged the cost estimates for the building.
“We’re acting like $31 million is good price,” he said. “We’ve never built anything for $31 million.”
Penzel said that while it’s up to the judiciary, he felt that fiscal responsibility required commissioners to trim the budget.
“My inclination is to say we can raise $15 million and you have to figure out how to get the job done,” he said.
Penzel also disagreed with calling in an infrastructure sales tax, saying people will think they’re getting work on their roads.
Perkins said the tax is referred to in state statute as an infrastructure tax.
Commissioner Dave Nelson said he would prefer to see the project funded without going to taxpayers, perhaps by renting additional space.
Perkins said if the expansion doesn’t go through, that’s what will happen.
Sheriff Ron Pierini pointed out that renting space would result in a substantial expenditure.
“If the courts go to another location, we’re going to have to hire more cops to transfer people,” he said. “One of the things you need to recognize is that there are more people moving to Douglas County. If you’re looking at the future, you can wait five years and it’s going to be $40 million.”
If approved for the ballot, Perkins said the county can’t advocate for the ballot question.