The war of words over the future of the Utah County Courthouse escalated again Thursday with the release of a statement by the Administrative Office of the Courts and the Central Utah Bar.
The statement, drawn up in response to Commissioner Brent Morris' opposition to proposed remodeling of the facility, labels as "ludicrous" some of the commissioner's statements. "This proposed remodeling project is the best alternative plan for the use of this building," the statement says.Morris called the statement little more than political maneuvering aimed at discrediting him and promoting a poorly conceived remodeling project that taxpayers and state legislators would not approve if given the chance.
"It's a last-minute effort to calm the public water over this issue," he said. "The best thing for them is to get this project and lease agreement ramrodded through before the Legislature starts. The (4th District) judges don't want it to go to the legislators because they'll (legislators) come to the same conclusion."
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 to house the 4th District Court, which is currently located there. 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. Morris argues that it would be unwise for the county to receive no return on a capital asset it has long since paid for.
But according to the Central Utah Bar statement, "It is foolish to propose that the county make a profit from the state for the use of this space. Why should county taxpayers make a profit from state taxpayers? Aren't they essentially the same people?"
Under the lease proposal, the county would issue another $1.5 million in lease revenue bonds to add to approximately $1.8 million in revenue bonds left over from $13 million issued by the County Building Authority Board to build the new Utah County Regional Government Center.
County taxpayers should be able to say whether they want the county to go further into debt to fund courthouse remodeling, Morris said. Rather than have county commissioners, as the building authority board, issue more lease revenue bonds, he said commissioners should issue general obligation bonds, which require voter approval.
"When you're going to bond and put the county in debt for 20 years, that should go to the voters," Morris said. Better yet, he added, let the state issue bonds to cover the remodeling, buy the facility outright or look elsewhere.
"The district court will not continue to reside in an unsafe structure, and it does not want to have the state pay for the cost of building a new courthouse to occupy," the statement counters.