County tackles funding courts

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— In an important step toward building a new justice center before a Sept. 1, 2006, court-ordered deadline, county commissioners are expected to choose today underwriting and bond counsel firms for the certificates of participation that will fund the project.

The step comes as commissioners wait to hear whether the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will issue a permit to fill wetlands at the new site west of downtown, a decision that is expected at the end of May, and as they consider answering a letter from the Steamboat Springs City Council, which encouraged commissioners to keep the justice center downtown.

The county expects to fund the 52,000-square-foot building with $7 million in reserves, and another $7 million to $8 million from certificates of participation.

County commissioners decided to use certificates last spring after county voters defeated a 2002 bond issue to fund a new downtown justice center. Certificates of participation can be issued without voter approval, Routt County Finance Director Dan Strnad said.

The Routt County Jail was built in 1991 with funds provided through certificates of participation, and that debt was paid off by 2001, Strnad said.

County commissioners likely will choose RBC Dain Rausher to provide underwriting services and the Kutak Rock firm to serve as bond counsel for the certificates.

The cost of the underwriting services depends on how much debt the county takes out through the certificates, and ranges from $55,000 to $59,000, Strnad said.

The amount the county finances through certificates also determines its annual payments for the next 20 years until the debt is paid. For $7 million of debt, the annual payment is about $560,000, and for $8 million of debt, the annual payment is about $640,000, Strnad said.

At the same time the county moves forward with funding for the justice center, it is being asked to respond to requests to keep the justice center downtown.

Last week, the City Council told county commissioners that the city would not require a parking structure -- the major cost difference between the sites -- if the justice center stays downtown.

On Monday, commissioners said they will respond to the city in the next several weeks.

Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger said he encouraged the city to discuss the justice center's location through a "firm" public process to ensure that all opinions were heard, and that he was "disappointed" that did not happen.

"Basically, this has not had any public process on their part," Monger said. "They're taking a position on this without a public process."

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