New courthouse is tough sell in south Routt

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— In 1923, Routt County residents paid $122,000 to build a courthouse. Now county officials want taxpayers to come up with an estimated $17 million to build a new one.

Judging from a meeting Wednesday night, the price tag might be hard to sell in south Routt.

After talking to a handful of locals at the meeting in Oak Creek, county officials found out the new courthouse isn't a priority for residents in the upper Yampa Valley, who are still reeling from tax increases from a school bond.

"We need a court facility for the future," County Manager Tom Sullivan told the small crowd at the South Routt Community Center.

The county courthouse is the same size as it was in 1923. Then, the judge might hear 400 cases in a year. Today, three judges hear more than 4,000 cases a year, said Evan Herman, court administrator for the county.

Plus, Herman said, traffic flow in the hall at times places criminals next to victims and forces jurors to be escorted to the courtroom past the public waiting in the hall.

"It's not the worst facility I've ever seen; but it's pretty bad," he said.

Though the need may be clear for county officials, south Routt resident Dean Rossi pointed out that people in the area already suffered a tax increase from voting in a 20-year, $9-million bond issue in November to improve all three public schools in south Routt.

"I think it's going to come down to the dollar," Rossi said. "A lot of people were surprised how much the school bond costs. I think you'll have a tough time selling it."

A $100,000 residential property in south Routt saw a $95.94 increase a year from the school bond. A commercial property worth the same amount saw a $285.65-a-year increase, according to the South Routt School District.

In January, Routt County Treasurer Jeanne Whiddon said dozens of south Routt residents called the county concerned about the tax increase.

"Taxes are an issue," south Routt resident Carol Villa said. "I think a lot of people were surprised to see how much the school bond costs."

County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said one of the reasons the school bond passed in November was that people understood the need for the work on the buildings. She said she hopes the county will be able to show residents the need for a new courthouse is just as great.

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