Some people may still be unhappy that the 4th District Court is going to be relocated in a new building rather than remain in the County Courthouse, but taxpayers should welcome the move, says Provo Mayor Joe Jenkins.
Remodeling the historic courthouse to meet district court needs would cost at least $6.5 million, whereas a new building that will house both the district court and 4th Circuit Court will cost only $5.2 million, Jenkins said. That price includes land costs as well.Under terms of an agreement between Provo and the state, Provo will create a municipal building authority that will issue lease revenue bonds to build the new structure. Because the state is going to retire the bonds, the new facility - to be built on the Ashton block north of the Excelsior Hotel - won't cost Provo City anything.
"We're not really creating a debt for the city," Jenkins said, because the state will service the bonds. "Our feeling is you really couldn't have a better tenant than the state of Utah."
Original plans called for the county's building authority to enter into a similar agreement with the state so the courthouse could be remodeled to house the district court and circuit court, which is located in the Provo City building. Subsequently, however, officials decided the courthouse wasn't big enough for both courts.
Commission Chairman Brent Morris opposed the plan, arguing that the proposal should go to the voters. Though the state would have retired the bonds sold to finance the courthouse's remodeling, he said, the county effectively would have lost use of a capital asset for which it would have received no profit from the state.
After state officials were unable to persuade new Commissioner Sid Sandberg to back the plan, they decided to seek legislative approval to build a new building to house both courts.
"The legislative intent was to enter into a lease with an option to buy, which is fine with us," Jenkins said. He said the state plans to retire the bonds within five years and own the facility outright.
Until then, Provo will lease the building to the state, which will cover rent, taxes, utilities and maintenance and operation expenses.
With money already appropriated to cover 12 months of debt service, Jenkins said, he will seek council approval Tuesday for creation of a municipal building authority, which will comprise council members.
The mayor said he hopes construction, estimated to take a year, will begin in June.
"It's good for downtown, and it will help us to keep going with our plan to turn Provo into an office and financial center," Jenkins said.
"This will fit right in."
Utah County is required by law to house the 4th District Court in the courthouse until July, after which a short-term contract must be reached to keep the courts there another year.
Local judges and Gordon Bissegger, state deputy court administrator, have discussed the possibility of temporarily relocating district courtrooms in various county locations until the new courthouse is completed.
Language in the legislative appropriations bill for next fiscal year doesn't prevent such a move, but it's likely the court will stay in the old courthouse another year.
"There's nothing in the intent language that would stop a move, but they can't move out without prior legislative approval," said Rep. Jeril Wilson, R-Provo.
In a letter last month to Gov. Norm Bangerter, county commissioners said temporarily moving the courts would be inconvenient and expensive.