Board of County Commissioners makes decision on courthouse
After a February 19th public forum on the matter and then deliberation last Monday, the Board of County Commissioners decided “in concept” to go with the courthouse option dubbed “Huntsman A”. This course of action involves the county deeding to Blackfoot Farms, LLC seven pieces of county land including a couple of gravel pits, the current Road and Bridge sheds and the current county courthouse. In exchange, Blackfoot Farms LLC will provide a 3 acre parcel of land for the courthouse in the new Huntsman Springs development as well as architecture fees, construction and landscaping costs appraised at $6.7 million. Not included in this estimate is a 5 acre parcel for a future county jail. By deciding on this plan “in concept” the commissioners indicated that there were details that still needed to be worked out.
The commissioners had a good discussion on the pros and cons of all the options. They decided against trying to renovate the current courthouse because there were so many unknowns. Until the work would have been underway it would be impossible to know all that this job would entail and therefore cost. In addition, this plan hinged on being able to buy the American Legion Hall, which they were told at the public forum was not for sale. Another concern was the disruption to county business that renovating the courthouse would cause.
Commissioner Alice Stevenson said that her preference would be to hold a public auction on the seven pieces of ground and to then use that money to build the courthouse on three acres donated by Blackfoot Farms. She felt that this approach would be “cleaner” than swapping land with Blackfoot Farms for a new courthouse. However, the board ultimately decided that this approach would take too long given the time pressures on them and that there were no guarantees regarding how much money the pieces of land would generate at public auction.
Ultimately, the original land–courthouse swap proposal was the known quantity and most expedient option. Chair Larry Young in comments at the end of their deliberation expressed that the county should not be in the position of relying on private donations to make capital improvements. However, given that the county does not have a capital improvements plan in place yet and that the need for a new courthouse has reached a crisis point, in this case the private donation was the best choice. He expressed that in the future he would like to see a different scenario whereby the county would plan in advance for how to fund these kinds of needs. VARD would like to commend the commissioners for the open process by which they have made this difficult decision and we too hope that in the future the county will be able to plan sufficiently for capital improvements and not “need” to rely on private donations.
The commissioners said that they would be keeping the pubic informed as they moved forward pursuing the land-courthouse swap.