Monday, December 23, 2002
Steamboat Springs Routt County officials said Monday the earliest date a new courthouse could be built is July 2006, some six months later than 14th Judicial District Judge Richard Doucette ordered.
After hearing the county's arguments, Doucette said he is willing to modify his order to meet the county's proposed timeframe as long as the county is making progress on the project. His order calls for semi-annual reports on the county's progress beginning July 1, 2003.
"I want to make it very clear to the citizens and to officials that something is going to have to be done here," said Doucette, who issued the order in his last month on the bench.
Doucette issued his order last week, asking the county to explain why it should not have to build a new court facility with three courtrooms that meet current court standards by Jan. 1, 2006. In the order he cited a number of deficiencies with the space allotted to courts in the Routt County Courthouse.
County officials and key participants in the failed courthouse project appeared in court Monday to argue for the extension of Doucette's deadline.
The county doesn't dispute the need for a new court facility, County Attorney John Merrill said. But county officials are concerned three years are not long enough to design and implement a revised court facility project. The county must provide the court with a detailed plan of how it will comply with Doucette's order by Jan. 1, 2004.
"I do not believe we can comply," Merrill said.
Doucette said he understood the county's concerns and was willing to allow some leniency in his order. The courts have been patient, he added. Doucette has been chief judge in the district for 22 years.
Russell Sedmak of HLM Design, the Denver-based architect that designed the failed court facility, said the best-case scenario for completing a new courthouse is July 2006.
County Commissioner Dan Ellison said the county needs time to get public support for a new court facility before it moves forward with any new plans. "It's clear to us that a new facility is warranted, needed and required," he said.
About 59 percent of Routt County voters said no to building a proposed $17.2 million judicial facility in November. County officials would like to place another courthouse initiative on the November 2003 ballot.
The county is looking at changing some of the elements in the failed plan to get the support it needs.
A post-election telephone survey revealed that voters were most concerned with the project's size, cost, location, parking structure and proposed 1.3-mill property tax increase. County officials are evaluating the results this week.
Whether voters approve a new plan in November or not, the court order holds the county responsible for finding a way to finance the project. "We have to build a facility and pay for it, no matter what," County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said.
That could mean the county -- not the taxpayers -- would finance a new court facility, she said.
"The judge is asking for some type of security ... that we build it whether it (ballot issue) fails or succeeds," County Commissioner Doug Monger said.
Doucette said the courthouse is long overdue.
"The court is extremely disappointed that people do not understand the need," he said.