Report says court needs space

A sales tax increase to fund an expansion could go to voters by April.
Wednesday, July 6, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:24 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Boone County officials should ask voters to approve a temporary sales tax to pay for the expansion of the courthouse and to address other government space needs, a committee appointed by county commissioners said in a report delivered Tuesday.

After 10 months of work and a series of 16 meetings, the 19-member Space Needs Committee presented its final report to the commission. Its overriding message: Get moving on it.

Northern District Commissioner Skip Elkin said voters could see a ballot issue as soon as April.

While committee members were skeptical in September about the need for more space, Chairman David Shorr said they now acknowledge the need is legitimate.

“Treading water is not the solution,” he said.

Most critical, Shorr noted, is the need to provide more space for court functions, which he said are already in jeopardy. The problem, committee members said, will only worsen as the court’s caseload increases exponentially.

“The people have a right to prompt and adequate justice,” Shorr said.

The committee in its 92-page report proposed that “the people” approve a temporary sales tax to finance the first of three phases of construction and renovation of the courthouse. Shorr said it is imperative that taxpayers be made aware of the judiciary’s compelling needs in order to distinguish the proposed sales tax from a bevy of potential tax issues being considered by the Columbia City Council.

“It’s up to the voters to decide what they feel their priorities are,” Elkin said. “I’m not going to sit here and say one tax is more important that another.”

Elkin said the county commissioners will need to develop a clear plan for how they will spend the money if they seek voter approval.

“Taxpayers aren’t going to give the commission a blank check,” he said.

“If we do our job, we are hoping they will see the community need in the courthouse,” Elkin said. “If we don’t do our job right, then the issue won’t pass.”

The committee drafted three resolutions providing for alterations to the courthouse, the Boone County Government Center and interim accommodations.

Shorr emphasized the importance of finishing the vacant third floor of the government center as a contingency before asking voters to fund courthouse renovations. The majority of the third floor would be used to house the county prosecutor’s office, which is now in the courthouse.

The report recommends the commission create a three-phase master plan for expanding the courthouse over the next 35 years. The first phase of that plan, it suggests, should be the addition of a third floor to the courthouse annex on the north side of the building. That addition would contain a courtroom and jury selection areas.

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