Courthouse plan fails

Residents vote against plan for new facility downtown

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— Routt County voters said no Tuesday to a tax increase to pay for a $17.2 million courthouse project.

With eight of 20 precincts reporting, 1,490 people had voted against Routt County Referendum 1A while 1,048 had voted for it.

"(What this says) is that people aren't willing or aren't wanting to pay more," Routt County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said. "That was the concern all along."

Referendum 1A asked people to support the construction of a $12.8 million, 52,000-square-foot building, $2.9 million parking garage and $1.5 million land purchase.

Taxpayers would have footed $10.1 million of the project cost, with the county picking up the remaining amount out of its reserve balance.

The bond issue called for a 1.3 mill property tax increase for 20 years. Taxpayers would have paid an additional $12 for every $100,000 of residential property and an additional $38 for every $100,000 of commercial property.

Routt Citizens for Safe Courts, the political action committee formed to support the courthouse initiative, encountered little opposition during the campaign to energize support for the new facility.

Unlike the proposed water district consolidation, no group formed to protest the courthouse measure. But voters made their protest clear on Election Day.

Ben Beall, co-chairman of Routt Citizens for Safe Courts, said educating the public about the need for a new court facility was tougher than he anticipated.

"How do we do that?" he asked. "It will be the question for next time. And there will be a next time."

Volunteers rang doorbells in Hayden, Steamboat Springs and South Routt, hosted ice cream socials at area homecomings and gave presentations to local businesses to get the word out about the courthouse initiative.

But supporters recognized the obstacle to a favorable outcome was not so much convincing voters of the need for a new courthouse facility but justifying the facility's cost.

Advocates of Referendum 1A said the project was long overdue because Routt County has grown since the 80-year-old courthouse was built, but its courtrooms have not.

The county committed about a third of its reserves toward the project to alleviate some of the burden on taxpayers.

"But it's out of our hands now," Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger said.

State law mandates adequate, safe courts. The county could be ordered to build a court facility if nothing is done.

"The handwriting's on the wall," Monger said.

The 52,000-square-foot building would have stood at the southwest corner of Oak and Sixth streets. The 127-vehicle parking structure would have sat behind the original courthouses and annex.

It has been a long road to getting the courthouse initiative on the ballot.

The first commission to look into the validity of asking voters to support the project met nine years ago.

"Now we have to figure out where we go from here," Stahoviak said.

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