Justice center location set

County commissioners say time, money won't allow change

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Routt County commissioners say changing locations for the new judicial facility would cost too much money and take too much time.

Commissioners made their position clear in a response sent to the city of Steamboat Springs. Last month, the Steamboat Springs City Council sent a letter to the county asking the county to reconsider its decision to build the new facility west of town near the Routt County Jail. The City Council advocated a downtown location for the nearly 50,00-square-foot building.

Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger said he was not surprised by the city's comments, but he was "a little concerned" by the council's timing.

"I think we've got a hell of a good project out there. I'm really happy with where we're moving on it," Monger said. "We, at this point in time, cannot back up with our time frame and be able to accomplish the project within the court order."

The county received a court order at the end of 2002 to build a new court facility by Sept. 1, 2006.

County commissioners highlighted that court order in their response to the city, saying they would have just enough time to build the justice center at the planned site. Changing to a downtown location would prohibit the county from meeting that deadline, commissioners said.

The county's letter also stated that the decision to build the justice center adjacent to Routt County Jail along Shield Drive was a difficult one, made only after three public work sessions and a public hearing held specifically to decide on the location in the spring of 2003.

The letter reiterated that the decision to build the justice center next to the jail was not unanimous, but rather was approved in a 2-1 vote, with Routt County Commissioner Dan Ellison voting against the move.

Another crucial part of the decision was funding, according to the letter. In 2002, a bond and mill levy ballot question failed by a significant margin. That outcome, with information from a following telephone survey, made it clear to commissioners that how and where to build the facility was a divisive issue among county residents.

Commissioners then concluded that a second bond and mill levy question would fail, so they chose to finance the center through taking on debt. Constructing the justice center downtown would have cost about $19 million, but building it next to the jail would cost about $15.4 million. Those savings, commissioners wrote, were another benefit of building the justice center near the jail.

Money already has been spent on plans for the new site, and the 5-acre parcel has been officially purchased for $550,000.

The four-paragraph letter sent by the City Council on Dec. 12 gave support for a statement in the Steamboat Springs Area Community Plan that said government offices act as "anchors within Old Town" and should stay there, and that the "current downtown location continues to be a most viable option."

The county's lengthier four-page reply detailed the main reasons why the county chose the west of downtown location, providing information on other issues.

For instance, county commissioners replied to the city's comment about government buildings being "anchors within Old Town," saying that available land and city zoning rules made the development of a large public building "very difficult."

The reply also said the site near the county jail would provide the best options for expansion of county buildings and court offices, and provided a more feasible parking option.

"We did not make the decision to move the justice complex without seriously considering all the issues involved," the letter read. "We have not received new information, and the issues remain the same. We stand by our decision in our firm belief that we have acted in the best interest for all of Routt County in a way that preserves the public trust."

-- To reach Susan Bacon, call 871-4203

or e-mail sbacon@steamboatpilot.com

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