Sales tax off table for judicial building
A proposal to seek a quarter cent sales tax increase to pay for expansion of the Douglas County Judicial & Law Enforcement Center was rejected on Thursday.
After hearing that there might be alternatives to the $31.6 million proposed expansion, commissioners voted not to put a sales tax on the ballot.
“We are looking at interim solutions, including the possibility of renting space,” County Manager Larry Werner said.
There are empty rental spaces near both the law enforcement center on Buckeye and the Historic Douglas County Courthouse, he said.
“This would buy us 4-5 years to see what other opportunities will arise,” he said. “We see some things that maybe going to a vote for a $31 million bond might be premature.”
Commissioner Nancy McDermid expressed concern that renting space might not be sufficient to ensure security for judges and others.
“I’m concerned about the security in the parking lot for the district attorneys and judges and for anyone who might need to come into the building,” she said. “I’m concerned given the nature of things we hear happening elsewhere. Are we able to solve some of those issues that the judges brought to our attention just by renting space somewhere?”
East Fork Justice of the Peace Tom Perkins said the first step will be to establish space for a victim and witness room.
“That’s one of the first concrete things we would do,” he said. “We were concerned that we should have a practical approach to these problems that the public can support. I assure you that the concerns you expressed are foremost in our minds, too.”
Commissioner Barry Penzel thanked Perkins and the county manager for working out a solution that didn’t require going to voters.
“Your approach is measured, and I think it is a good decision,” he said.
Commission Chairman Steve Thaler said he didn’t think delaying an attempt to build a new courthouse was a bad plan.
“There’s no doubt that we recognize that we have problems,” he said. “But we’ve learned through the process that there are other options. I don’t think we’re kicking the can down the road.”
The judges and county staff will bring back some of the other options to commissioners at a future meeting.
The last major renovation of the judicial building was the $4 million to expand the jail in 2011.
According to the architects, adding 30,000 square feet to the 35-year-old building will cost $13.5 million. Renovating 25,000 square feet is estimated to cost $6.8 million, while a 70,000-square-foot parking structure would cost $4 million.
The original building was constructed starting in 1980 for $4.5 million raised when voters approved a $6 million bond. The rest of the money built the county’s Stateline offices.