Voters will decide in a controversial special election Tuesday, Oct. 23, whether to obligate debt-free Grand County for 30 years to pay for a proposed $4.5 million courthouse expansion project.

County commissioners voted last month to schedule the bond election in advance of the general election, mainly to separate the issue from a proposed two-mill increase for education that will be on the general ballot.The move has been criticized by school officials as an attempt by commissioners to make voters choose the courthouse project over the mill-levy increase, which would raise an additional $90,000 a year for the schools.

"I had a desire to separate the two issues so that it wouldn't hurt either one of us," said Commissioner David Knutson. "It was my opinion that if people went to the polls and people saw two proposals to raise taxes, they'd mark both off."

The five-member Grand County School Board issued a public statement early this month opposing the special election, because of concerns that voters would support the bond issue but vote against the school referendum.

School Board President Mike Arehart said Saturday the school board still opposes the county holding a special election, because of the advantage to the county of the voters having to consider the courthouse first.

However, Arehart said he has grown confident over the past two weeks that the courthouse issue will not hurt the leeway election after all.

"We thought people would go for one or the other, and people were saying to us, as individual board members, that they couldn't pay for both," Arehart said. "Since then, I think people have stood back and examined the issues, . . . and I think people understand them better now. I'm optimistic that they'll vote for both."

Arehart agreed with Commissioner David Knutson that controversy over the special election spurred people to get better informed about both issues. "They understand both issues, and they're ready and willing (to vote for both), and if they don't, I'll be surprised," he said.