County building improvements on ballot

A sales tax would finance expansions and renovations.
Friday, January 20, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 2:50 p.m. CDT, Thursday, June 19, 2008

[NOTE: This article has been modified since its original posting.]

A new sales tax to pay for an addition to the Boone County Courthouse and other county building projects will appear on the April 4 ballot.

The Boone County Commission on a 2-1 vote decided to place a proposed one-fifth-cent sales tax issue on the ballot. If voters approve, the sales tax would be in place countywide for four years and would generate an estimated $16 million to pay for the building projects. It would take effect Oct. 1.

After the collecting the tax for about a year, county officials plan to issue special obligation bonds to finance the expansions and renovations. County Treasurer Kay Murray said the exact amount of that bond issue remains unknown but could range from $12 million to $16 million.

The courthouse and the Roger B. Wilson Boone County Government Center would be the focus of the proposal. County officials hope to add two new floors to the annex on the north side of the courthouse; to finish the third floor of the government center, which has been empty since the building was erected years ago; to make other improvements at the government center; and to work on other county buildings.

Officials have complained that a growing caseload and a larger workforce have caused crowding in the courthouse, which houses not only courtrooms but also the offices of circuit judges, the circuit clerk and the Boone County prosecutor.

Kay Roberts, a member of the Space Needs Committee that helped develop the proposal, told officials Thursday afternoon that Boone County’s growing population has forced the circuit clerk to handle rising amounts of paperwork and to hire more employees.

The “circuit court has made adjustment after adjustment,” Roberts said. “The saturation point has been reached.”

Commerce Bank President Theresa Maledy said she was “struck by the burden” employees in the courthouse must endure due to the lack of space. She said residents seeking legal advice also suffer.

“(Their) privacy and confidentiality is compromised by physical limitations,” she said.

Northern District Commissioner Skip Elkin voted against placing the proposal on the ballot, while Southern District Commissioner Karen Miller and Presiding Commissioner Keith Schnarre voted for it. Elkin worried the proposal might be too broad.

“I think the true need is in the courthouse,” Elkin said, suggesting the ballot issue should focus on that project alone.

Miller said the proposal for expanding the county courthouse should meet that building’s space needs for as long as 15 years. The new sales tax, if approved by voters in April, would also pay for other current space needs identified by the county.

Schnarre called the plan the “cheapest and (most) economical for the citizens.”

The commission first began exploring county government’s space needs in January 2003 and eventually appointed the Space Needs Committee to help them accomplish the task. That committee met over the course of several months and examined needs not only at the courthouse and the government center, but also in several surrounding county-owned buildings, including the former Lifestyles Furniture Building, the Johnson Building and the former Guaranty Land Title Building.

Murray said the courthouse addition would cost an estimated $9.5 million, while the government center’s third floor would cost about $800,000 to finish. The government center would also be in line for remodeling and other work to alleviate crowding.

Murray said the sales tax proceeds would also produce enough money to allow work on the former Guaranty building and to refinance debt on that structure and the Lifestyles building.

“In the meantime, money we’ve set aside, about $200,000, will get them through architectural drawings and design, space needs and stop-gap remodeling,” Murray said.

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