Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sell it to the public

I still believe it is in the best interests of the citizens of Comal County to go forward with these plans.

We, the County, and its employees need to reach out and educate the public as to both the need for the Justice Center and why the proposed location is where it should be located.

I have no problem with the proposal going to the public for approval we have to make the case to the public and it will pass.

$3 million already invested in justice center


Comal County will have a significant amount of money at stake in May, when voters go to the polls to decide whether to build a downtown justice center.

County commissioners on Thursday officially recognized a petition to force a bond election, halting the commissioners’ attempt to issue debt to pay for a project county staff had been planning for nearly four years.

To date, the county has invested nearly $3 million to both buy the property downtown and pay for the initial architectural planning and design costs needed to build the estimated $36 million justice center.

The county purchased a 30,000 square-foot lot on the east side of Seguin Avenue between Bridge and Zink streets in April 2008 for $1.5 million, with plans to build the four-story, 127,000 square-foot facility.

County Auditor David Renken said the initial planning and design costs for the justice center totaled more than $1.2 million.

In addition, the county has an interlocal agreement in place with the City of New Braunfels that requires the county to set aside just more than $2 million to help fund the joint construction of a downtown parking garage within four years — but only if funds are issued to build a justice center.

Commissioners voted on Oct. 15 to build the facility without voter approval, seeking to use certificates of obligation to pay for what would be the largest county-funded project in history.

But a citizen-led petition drive put those plans on hold, after enough signatures were gathered and verified to force the May bond election.

Should voters turn down the county’s attempt to use bonds to pay for the project, county staff said Thursday that much of the initial investment could be lost — with plans drawn and land purchased for a building that might not be built.

The architectural plans are specifically tailored to the proposed downtown location, County Engineer Tom Hornseth said.

“The plans are basically for that particular site,” Hornseth said. “We couldn’t use those drawings, or they would at least have to be modified, to use at a different site.”

He did say, however, that much of the planning done as part of the study — including determining departmental needs — still could be utilized if commissioners seek to build a justice center elsewhere.

The property the county purchased would still be valuable, although it might never be turned into a state-of-the-art justice center with secure courtrooms and added space for county employees, prisoners and the public.

Although voters will ultimately decide whether to bonds will be issued, county officials said they could still pursue different funding mechanisms to build the justice center should it fail at the polls — including again attempting to issue certificates of obligation or holding another bond election in the future.

“We do not have another plan at this point,” said Pct. 4 County Commissioner Jan Kennady.

She did say, however, that the current courthouse is not in compliance with Texas Jail Commission standards.

“Eventually, we have to move forward somehow, but we just have to wait and see right now.”