County Commissioner Brent Morris has lost out on his bid to persuade fellow commissioners to vote against a $2.8 million plan to remodel the historic County Courthouse.
Commissioners Malcolm Beck and Gary Anderson on Wednesday approved plans, specifications and costs of the project. After reiterating his opposition, Morris voted against the project, which he said is not in the best interest of state or county taxpayers.Beck and Anderson said approval of the project was long overdue, and Anderson welcomed the opportunity to vote for the project - his last official action as a county commissioner before stepping down next week. "If I leave without voting on this project, my work would not be done," he said.
Under the proposal, commissioners - acting as the County Building Authority Board - will issue $1 million in lease revenue bonds that will be coupled with approximately $1.8 million in revenue bonds left from $13 million issued to build the new Utah County Regional Government Center.
Proceeds from leasing the courthouse to the state for the next 15 years will be used to retire the bonds. The state will be responsible for maintenance and operation costs as well.
The county will receive no profit from leasing the facility. Commissioners are expected to approve the lease agreement once final figures and square footage are determined.
"In the long run, this is not a good recommendation for the county," Morris said. Quoting from a letter by MHT Architects, Morris said remodeling the courthouse will provide only a reasonable amount of security for those within and that a new building would not only be better but cheaper.
Nor will remodeling the building strengthen it "to any ideal percentage or standard," said Deputy Court Administrator Gordon Bissegger.
The MHT Architects letter projects that the courthouse, once remodeled, will have a useful life of at least 20 years. The state will then again be faced with further remodeling or building a new facility, Morris said.
Quoting from a report by Steve Grimshaw of the office of the Legislative Fiscal Analyst, Morris reminded fellow commissioners that the analyst recommended the lease be delayed until the next legislative session so it can be scrutinized by appropriate legislative committees.
According to minutes of an Interim Legislative Appropriations Committee meeting last Oct. 19, Grimshaw said the state would save money by building a courthouse where the 4th District and 4th Circuit courts could be co-located.
"With the exception of certain smaller leases, bonding for construction is cheaper," Grimshaw said in his report. "The analyst recommends that all proposed new space be first considered for acquisition before leasing becomes an alternative."
In the case of the County Courthouse, Grimshaw wrote, taxpayers would save more than a half million dollars if the state owned a combination district and circuit court facility. "The savings over a 20-year period of ownership vs. leasing is $650,933, without any consideration of the fact that under the lease proposal the state owns nothing after 20 years of payments."
However, Bissegger told Morris that Neal Stowe of the state Division of Facilities Construction and Management is comfortable with the remodeling proposal and accompanying lease agreement. Although the bonds will be issued for 20 years, he said, the state plans to retire them in 15 years, thus saving taxpayers about $2 million.
Because the state has so many capital facilities needs, Bissegger said, a lease agreement is an acceptable alternative to building a new courthouse. The remodeling project will benefit both state and county taxpayers, he said.
"We (Utah County) don't have use of that building for 20 years," Morris responded. "Personally, that's not a benefit to me."
He said he also was disturbed that the county likely will get stuck with costs of temporary relocating court clerks once remodeling starts. At least one Provo resident agreed with Morris.
"In my own mind, I'm convinced the public would not approve it," Dave Lyon said of the project. He said the comfort of district judges should not be increased at the expense of taxpayers. "This action has not yet persuaded the public."
Originally, the courthouse was to be remodeled to house both the district court and circuit court, which is housed in the Provo City Building. Because that original concept was abandoned, Morris said, the public should be given some say. He said the county should issue general obligation bonds, which, unlike lease revenue bonds, must be approved by voters.
"In my opinion and my view," Anderson countered, "this (courthouse remodeling) is part of the total proj-ect." He said the courthouse is a beautiful landmark that will meet judicial needs for several years if properly remodeled and maintained.