Behind the Headlines: Ben Beall
Ben Beall is the chairman of a committee formed to support the passage of a bond issue to pay for a new judicial facility. He discusses the need for a new courthouse in Routt County.
Q. You have said before that trying to get a bond issue passed for a new courthouse is difficult because there is no constituency for the courthouse.
How is the committee addressing this issue and what does the committee have planned between now and the election to promote the courthouse?
A. There is a constituency for the new judicial facility. It is all the residents of Routt County. This community is mandated by state law to correct the serious safety and security deficiencies that plague the current facility. This is a public infrastructure project that brings court facilities that were built in 1923 up to date.
Routt Citizens for Safe Courts has worked hard to find the best way to share information about this important project with the residents of Routt County. There is not one large special-interest group like there is for a school bond issue with parents of students and teachers or a Fire Protection District where everyone who owns a residence has an interest in protecting their property. We realized from the beginning that the best way to share information is one-on-one conversations. We have made presentations to local governments, service groups and neighborhood associations. We will continue to campaign right up to the election.
Routt Citizens for Safe Courts will be visible in the community by supporting the Hayden Tigers, Steamboat Sailors and the South Routt Rams at their Homecoming events. We will be scooping ice cream and talking about the judicial facility. We have already gone door to door in Steamboat II/Heritage Park/Silver View and will be doing the same in all the other neighborhoods in Routt County. We have also arranged with the Court Administrator, for those residents who want to see firsthand the inadequacies of the existing court facilities, for tours of the third floor of the courthouse. For those who wish to take a tour or desire more information, call 846-7766, visit our Web site at http://www.safecourts.org or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q. Total price for the new courthouse and parking facility is $17.2 million. The county will kick in $6 million of its $18 million in reserve funding for the project. How did the county arrive at that amount and how do you answer those who say the county should use more of its reserve funds for the project?
A. The county commissioners have had many discussions as to how best to fund the judicial facility and limit the tax burden on Routt County residents. The financing structure is based on two principals. One: to limit the bond issue to the amount of the county’s general obligation bond limit. By doing so the county will qualify for the lowest interest rates. Two: to use county reserves to make up the difference between the bond issue and the cost of the project.
Two weeks ago, the commissioners were able to define what the general obligation limit would be. At that time the commissioners committed to a $10.1 million limit to the bond issue, which is less than the original $11 million limit. They committed to funding the remaining costs of the project out of reserves, which may be as high as $7.1 million versus the earlier commitment of $6 million in reserves, and they established a maximum 1.3 mill increase in property taxes.
The intent to use county reserves was to minimize the need for a tax increase. Using these reserves does require the county to delay other projects and improvements, such as reconstructions of highly traveled county roads, and it does reduce general fund cash reserves. Use of more reserves would jeopardize that fiscal balance between paying for long term capital projects and maintaining of reserves for the replacement of equipment and improvements. With these decisions Routt County residents will get a much-needed $17.2 million community infrastructure project for a $1 monthly increase in property taxes per $100,000 market value of their residence.
Q. One of the criticisms of the courthouse project is its cost. How do you answer critics who say $17 million is too much for a facility most people will rarely use?
A. It is not true to say that only a few Routt County residents use the courts. The courts are a necessary part of the legal system that protects property and contract rights as well as being a part of the criminal justice system. The judicial system is a central part of the democratic form of government, which benefits everyone. Proper facilities are essential for jurors, witnesses and the public.
Safe and adequate courts are necessary to protect us from domestic violence, adopt a child, collect a debt and prosecute those who break the law. If the courts are not safe and accessible to all, then our judicial process is compromised and our democracy suffers. There are more than 4,400 cases heard each year compared to 200 in 1923. Since 1923, we have built many new schools, two new hospitals and other government buildings. It’s time to address our need for court facilities.
The $17.2 million “Judicial Facility Project” has three components:
n Cost of the land at $1.5 million.
n The 127-space parking structure at $2.9 million.
n The cost of the 52,000-square-foot judicial facility at $12.8 million. The cost per square foot ($246) for the judicial facility, designed to last 80 years, compares favorably with the new Steamboat Springs High School and the new hospital.
With the consolidation of the Routt County campus in downtown Steamboat Springs, there will be a savings of more than $80,000 annually now paid to lease office space.
Q. One of the driving forces behind the courthouse project is the state’s recommendation that Routt County’s courthouse be larger. How is the state likely to respond if Routt County does not build a new courthouse?
A. The driving force behind building the new judicial facility is that the existing facility is unsafe, inaccessible to those with disabilities and much too small. The county has been advised of this by at least two local citizens committees, several experts in court design and our local judges and court administrator.
These inadequacies expose the county to lawsuits if someone is harmed in the courthouse and the county could be ordered to provide adequate court facilities.
Usually, however, the local judges and the county commissioners work to solve the problem before it becomes a crisis. In our case, the judges and the court administrator have cooperated in designing the new judicial facility.
If we don’t act the state court administrator may step in to enforce the state laws that require counties to provide adequate and safe court facilities. It is better to address the problem ourselves than to be subjected to a lawsuit by the state.
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