Recent calls for constructing a new judicial facility downtown are too little, too late.
Routt County commissioners are moving forward with a plan to build the new justice center on a five-acre site near the county jail west of Steamboat Springs. The decision to build the center there was made last spring after countless public hearings to gather input on the location. While reasoned arguments were made on behalf of building the justice center downtown, a greater number advocated building to the west. The consensus was that a west of town site would be less costly, provide ease of access between courts and the jail and accommodate parking easily.
That decision was accepted for months. But last month, the Steamboat Springs City Council sent a letter to the commissioners asking them to reconsider the location, and Townsend Anderson, who advocated for a downtown location during last spring's public hearings, argued for a downtown site in a lengthy essay. At a public hearing last week, more residents challenged the site selection.
But none of the arguments for a downtown site are new. It seems pointless to spend more time and money on this debate.
One of the points that the City Council, Anderson and other advocates of a downtown facility should keep in mind is that the existing courthouse isn't going anywhere.
The new, 50,000-square-foot justice center will be focused on the judicial system, housing four courtrooms, a clerk of courts office, judge's chambers, offices for the probation department and offices for the district attorney.
Those are important government functions, but they are not the primary reasons most residents come to the courthouse. Instead, residents are more apt to visit one of the county offices that will remain in the downtown courthouse -- the county clerk's office, motor vehicle registration, the commissioners' offices, human services, road and bridge, the agricultural extension service and the planning department.
Routt County went to voters in November 2002 with a $17.2 million plan to build a courthouse and an adjacent parking garage downtown. Voters rejected that plan by a 2-1 margin. Reasons cited for rejecting the plan were the cost, the location and the parking garage.
Commissioners can make a pretty strong case that they listened to the voters. They formed a citizens committee and held public hearings. They moved the site. They got rid of the parking garage. And they reduced the overall cost to $15.5 million.
One more thing the commissioners did -- they took responsibility for the project. By deciding to finance the facility with certificates of participation, which do not require voter approval, commissioners will be the ones held accountable for the justice center decisions. While they might argue that Judge Richard Doucette forced their hand, that's not really the case. Doucette's order to build a new facility, issued on his last days in office, doesn't carry much weight, since there's no real penalty for defying it.
The commissioners have made their decision on a justice center and where to build it. Their reasoning, in our judgment, was sound. The location is set.
Those who disagree can and should take it up with their commissioners at the ballot box.