State court administrators have put the Utah County Courthouse remodeling project on hold after being unable to persuade new County Commissioner Sid Sandberg last week to back the controversial project.
"I would say it's at least on hold, probably dead," Deputy State Court Administrator Gordon Bissegger said.Rather than push for remodeling the courthouse to better accommodate the 4th District Court and make the building seismically safer, he said, officials will present a proposal during a state legislative budget hearing Wednesday to collocate the district court in a new building with Provo's 4th Circuit Court, which now is housed in the Provo City Building.
On Thursday, local court administrator Mike Havemann, Bissegger and 4th District Judge Ray M. Harding "came to deliver an ultimatum," Sandberg said. "They said I needed to make my decision by 4 p.m. on Friday or the court administrator's office would withdraw the plan."
Sandberg, sworn in as a commissioner two weeks ago, said he has too many questions about the proposed lease agreement between the county and state and feels the public should be allowed more say.
"That makes it impossible for me to blindly endorse the plan at this point," he said. "There are just some things that have to be determined and answered before a decision is made."
Said Bissegger: "I don't think we presented it as an ultimatum. But from our perspective, the cost of remodeling the building and the bond package had been reviewed by state, the building people and the courts. The guidelines and the standards had been applied to the specs of the building, and there had been several public meetings on the issue."
With the budget hearing approaching Wednesday and in light of rising interest rates that would have increased the project's cost, "We needed to know (Sandberg's decision) as soon as possible," Bissegger said.
He said all that was lacking for officials to move ahead on the project was for county commissioners to approve a final lease agreement so it could be presented during the legislative budget hearing.
Under the remodeling proposal, county commissioners - acting as the Utah County Building Authority - would have issued $1 million in lease revenue bonds. The new funding would have been coupled with $1.8 million in revenue bonds left from the $13 million issued to build the new Utah County Regional Government Center.
Proceeds from leasing the courthouse to the state for the next 20 years would have been used to retire the bonds. The county would have realized no profit from the agreement.
Last month Commissioner Malcolm Beck and former Commissioner Gary Anderson approved the project's plans, specifications and costs. Commissioner Brent Morris, however, voted against the project, arguing that the proposal should go to voters.
He said the county should issue general obligation bonds, which, unlike lease revenue bonds, must be approved by voters. In addition, he said the proposal should again go before the Legislature's Interim Executive Committee because the plan had been changed since originally authorized.
Original plans called for remodeling that would have provided for the district and circuit courts to be housed in the courthouse.
"I'm happy," Morris said of hearing the project likely will be killed. "I would rather see the courts collocate anyway. It will save the taxpayers money. It's a better decision."
Bissegger said locating the district court in a new building with the circuit court probably won't be any more costly to taxpayers than the proposed remodeling. Under the alternative, he said, the state would lease the new building from Provo.
"We could probably do it for the same cost . . . as renting the County Courthouse from the county," he said. "We'll have some numbers to evaluate in time for the hearing on Wednesday."
Nevertheless, he said, "We believed all along we were doing what the county wanted us to do in terms of renovating the facility to meet our standards and guidelines, and at the same time preserve the aesthetics of the building. It's regretful that it appears we're not able to go ahead."
Sandberg said the county needs more say on future use of the courthouse. During the next three weeks, he said, public hearings will be held throughout the county so people can voice their opinions.