The Utah County Commission has put the brakes on a $3.3 million County Courthouse remodeling project pending review of a lease agreement in which the county would issue bonds for the state's benefit.
"We have some conflicting information," said County Commission Chairman Malcolm Beck. "We're going to meet with the state's facilities management people to make sure we're on the right track."Beck and fellow commissioner Brent Morris have been at odds over the remodeling project, which has ballooned from an original cost of $1.8 million to a proposed $3.3 million. This week, however, commissioners have adopted a conciliatory attitude toward resolving the issue.
Originally, the remodeling was to prepare the courthouse to accommodate the 4th Circuit Court, with 4th District courtrooms to undergo minor remodeling. But state officials have decided to move the circuit court, housed in the Provo City Building, into a new building yet to be built.
Under the current proposal, between $2.8 million and $3.3 million in lease revenue bonds would be used to finance remodeling of the courthouse, which would house only the district court. The county would use proceeds from leasing the building to the state for the next 15 to 20 years to retire the bonds. Lease payments would cover bond payment and maintenance and operation costs, but would leave no profit for the county.
Under debate is whether the county should issue an additional $1.5 million in lease revenue bonds to cover remodeling costs. The county already has approximately $1.8 million left over from $13 million in revenue bonds issued by the County Building Authority Board for construction of the new Utah County Regional Government Center.
Morris questions the wisdom in spending 3.3 million in taxpayer dollars to remodel the courthouse strictly for district court use, when only $1.8 million originally was supposed to be sufficient to remodel the building for both the district and circuit courts.
If remodeling is to go forward, Morris argues, the county should issue general obligation bonds, which, unlike lease revenue bonds, must be approved by voters. Because the remodeling project is so different from what was originally approved, he added, it should be reviewed by the Legislature's Interim Executive Appropriations Committee and the state Legislature.
Contents of a letter by Neal Stowe of the state Division of Facilities Construction and Management left Beck with the impression that the division had discussed in October the changes in the proposed lease agreement with the appropriations committee. Minutes of meetings, however, reveal that the lease agreement was not discussed.
Rep. Jeril Wilson said he personally reviewed minutes and found no such discussion. "It is my recollection that it was not discussed," said Wilson, Utah County deputy attorney who serves as vice chairman of the appropriations committee.
Morris said he prefers the state either buy the courthouse outright so the county can get a return on the building or enter into a short-term lease agreement until a new building can be built for both the circuit and district courts. Meanwhile, both courts could be housed in the courthouse as originally planned.
Such changes would require legislative review and approval and cause further delays - something that doesn't sit well with local district judges.
Beck said commissioners plan to discuss the issue further with judges, legislators and other state officials.