(Source: “Supervisors consider splitting justice center, Hope to get enough support for a solo courthouse project,” Press Citizen, 14 October 2013, by Adam B Sullivan)
Johnson County leaders are ready to abandon their hopes for a large justice center behind the existing courthouse, but there’s no consensus about what a new plan to address space shortages at the jail and courthouse will look like.
A majority of county voters have approved two ballot items in the past year that would have authorized the county to borrow millions to build a justice center addition on the west side of the courthouse, though they each fell short of the 60 percent needed for a bond referendum. The proposals were similar, each calling for more than $40 million to expand jail and courthouse space.
County leaders said at a meeting Monday afternoon that they don’t plan to send another similar proposal to voters, though they don’t know where to go from here.
“I don’t have another idea in my head of exactly what we’re going to do that I think I can go out and sell everyone,” county attorney Janet Lyness said.
A majority of the Johnson County Board of Supervisors said Monday that they’re open to addressing the jail and courthouse issues separately.
During the lead-up to the two recent justice center referenda, some opponents of the project said they would support a plan to expand the courthouse, but not the jail. Accordingly, county leaders now say they might separate the projects, hoping they could garner sufficient support for a solo courthouse project.
“I don’t see how building a new jail will ever pass,” supervisor Janelle Rettig said. “I mean, ever.”
Monday’s meeting lasted more than three hours, but no majority of supervisors could come together on a plan they would support. The meeting occasionally grew tense, with supervisors raising their voices and talking over each other a couple times.
Rettig and supervisor Rod Sullivan seemed to favor moving forward with a courthouse expansion first, though supervisor John Etheredge still is pushing to move the county’s justice facilities to county-owned land on Melrose Avenue on the west edge of town. Supervisor Terrence Neuzil said he likely won’t support any plan that doesn’t include safety and security upgrades at the aging jail, but that’s a problem for supervisor Pat Harney, who doesn’t want to improve a building he says needs to be fully replaced.
“I can’t see putting a lot of money into that old jail. It’s just a waste of money,” Hanrey said. “ … I think we need to try one more time with the complete package.”
Leaders spent some time rehashing the previous two referenda, discussing strategies to earn the necessary 60 percent support whenever another referendum does come up, though that won’t likely be until late next year at the earliest.
Harney said there were plenty of citizens who supported the rejected projects but didn’t show up to vote.
“I think we just did a poor job of selling it,” Harney said.
Other supervisors, though, said supporters did a good job of disseminating important information about the jail and courthouse issues.
“I thought the media coverage was incredibly good,” Neuzil said. “The newspapers’ editorial boards, the news reporters — I’m not sure if newspaper coverage could have been any more extensive, in-depth as it was with this particular issue.”