The Utah County Commission has postponed until Monday a decision regarding a proposed resolution to finance remodeling of the old County Courthouse.
Commissioners Gary Anderson and Brent Morris, who questioned the legality of issuing $1.5 million in additional lease revenue bonds, Wednesday said they wanted their confusion cleared up before voting on the resolution.The county already has $1.8 million in bonds for remodeling, which is part of $13 million issued by the Municipal Building Authority for construction of the new Utah County Regional Government Center. The additional bonds would make $3.3 million available for remodeling.
The $1.8 million was to be used for remodeling the courthouse to accommodate Provo's 4th Circuit Court. State officials, however, decided to build a new building for the circuit court and asked the county to issue another $1.5 million in bonds so the courthouse could be remodeled for the 4th District Court, currently housed there.
Under the proposed agreement, the county would use proceeds from leasing the courthouse to the state to retire the bonds. The county, however, would be responsible for bond payment and would be responsible if the state backed out of its contract.
Commissioner Brent Morris has threatened to vote against issuing more lease revenue bonds. He feels the county should issue general obligation bonds, which require voter approval. Lease revenue bonds, issued by county commissioners who also sit as the Municipal Building Authority, do not require voter approval.
At issue is whether county commissioners have to unanimously approve the issuance of more revenue bonds for the project.
Deputy County Attorney Jeril Wilson told commissioners that state law requires a unanimous commission vote. But because commissioners will be acting under authority granted them as a building authority, "It shall not be necessary for . . . a building authority to comply with provisions of other laws concerning the acquisition, construction, use and maintenance of projects . . .," Wilson said, quoting state statute.
Only a simple majority is needed, he said. The Municipal Building Authority gives commissioners power to circumvent the provisions of other laws, he said.
In some cases, Wilson said, "It appears this provision gives a lot of power and authority and could work against the will of the people and be misused."
Morris questioned the constitutionality of a state law that apparently gives the building authority more power than the commission. Deputy County Attorney Guy Burningham said a similar bond issuance by Iron County commissioners, acting as a building authority, was backed by the Utah Supreme Court.
"It's not resolved in my mind," Anderson said. "If we're going to do this, I want to be sure we do it right. I'm confused."
Anderson said he feels uncomfortable issuing more bonds without public approval, even if the move is legal. "What does the public say to us?"
Morris said he opposes the resolution because remodeling the courthouse for the district court wasn't even part of the plan for which the $1.8 million was earmarked.
"The original concept is different than what we now have today. The original intent was not going to require additional monies," he said. "I think we're dilating the original intent of that $1.8 million."
Mike Havemann, 4th District court executive, said additional remodeling beyond what the $1.8 million could provide is needed to make the courthouse earthquake-proof and to bring it in compliance with a state master plan to upgrade facilities.
Wilson said commissioners could retire the existing $1.8 million in revenue bonds and then give voters a chance to vote on general obligation bonds to finance remodeling. "You could start all over," he said.
Commission Chairman Malcolm Beck doesn't like the idea.
"Why change horses in the middle of the stream?" he asked. "My personal opinion is that building authorities are stupid. They're a way to get around general obligation bonds, but it's legal."
Bond counsel Blaine Carlton raised another concern when he reminded commissioners that they haven't approved final plans and specs for courthouse remodeling.
Because plans haven't been approved, Wilson said, the commission should consider putting the work out to bid rather than giving it to Jacobsen Construction Co., which built the new county and state facility.
"To put $1.5 million more into the project raises questions," he said. "Have we given Jacobsen a windfall?"
Beck said the company was part of the original contract and should not be dumped just because final plans haven't been approved.
"My only question is whether the final specs should be approved first (before issuing more bonds)," he said. "Everything else I'm clear on."