Monday, November 25, 2002
Steamboat Springs Routt County officials wondered if residents would ever speak out on the proposed court facility.
Public input was sparse before Nov. 5. Meetings were poorly attended, and no opposition group formed to protest an addition to the courthouse.
But the silence broke at the polls and with it came waves of public comment.
"The way you get the voters' attention is to hold an election," County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said. "That gets their attention, and then they'll get involved."
Routt County officials on Monday agreed the election revealed what they had been trying to gauge for months public sentiment about the courthouse.
Now, thanks to hindsight, the county commissioners have a better idea of where the community stands on a new judicial facility.
People understand the need, but they may deviate on such factors as location, cost, size and funding, County Commissioner Doug Monger said.
The proposed 2003 county budget includes $300,000 to re-evaluate the project.
An earlier draft of the budget was somewhat wishful thinking. It included figures that would have come from taxpayers and the county's reserve had the courthouse initiative passed.
If the county downsizes the project or moves the facility from its proposed downtown location to a site near the Routt County Jail, its current architectural plans must go.
Downsizing the project means the court facility might meet the county's needs for only another 20 years.
But a smaller size and a new location don't guarantee a change of heart at the polls.
"We don't know," Stahoviak said. "This is like starting all over."
Routt Citizens for Safe Courts, the political action committee formed to support the courthouse initiative, met last week to determine what to do and where to go with its message.
Concern exists that voters will never approve the project no matter how much the county tweaks it.
People at last week's meeting were divided on whether a second attempt to get the courthouse initiative on the ballot was worth the effort, Monger said.
If the county tries to shoulder the entire cost of the project, it will not have the means to subsidize future projects, County Manager Tom Sullivan said.
Dipping into reserves means planned projects will not happen, he said.
The county committed a third of its reserves to the proposed court facility.
The county is also looking at the possibility of giving voters a choice at the ballot. A future initiative could possibly ask voters to choose between paying $10 million for a courthouse downtown or a courthouse out by the jail.
But money is and will continue to be a factor.
"We don't have the money to build it," Monger said.
"We need to be realistic in our own aspirations."