Voters OKed Todd County courthouse renovation, but what’s next?

I wrote about the ongoing discussion whether to preserve the Todd County Courthouse back in May. Three weeks ago, the question was put to the people of Todd County in the form of a question on the ballot of the general election:

“In favor of renovating the Todd County Historic Courthouse and to bond for up to $4.3 million for said purpose. Yes____ No____

BY VOTING ‘YES’ ON THIS BALLOT QUESTION, YOU ARE VOTING FOR A PROPERTY TAX INCREASE”

The bonding referendum passed by a narrow margin. Though it passed, the County Board of Commissioners has told the general public that the decision is still up to the board and they may not go ahead with it in spite of the vote.

So even though the voters have voiced their preferences, it’s not certain to me how the county board will decide how much to bond for or whether to do the project at all.

todd courthouse.jpg

First, let’s clarify some numbers, which make it seem like the project’s price tag grew through the year. County Administrator Nate Burkett told me in May the estimated cost would be $4.1 million. But by Aug. 17, the price tag had apparently increased to $4.7 million. The proposed bonding amount went from $2.7 million to the $4.3 million on the ballot.

Burkett said in May that a feasibility report by the Collaborative Design Group estimated the cost of renovation at $4.1 million.

But then an August 2010 presentation, available on the Todd County website, detailed the renovation costs: The construction cost was just under $4.1 million but with the relocation of the 911 system and furniture, fixtures and equipment, the total was just under $4.3 million. Adding the geothermal system brought the cost up to just under $4.4 million.

Meanwhile, the county also detailed the expected costs for demolishing the old courthouse and building a new one, putting the total at just over $4.7 million.

Here was the breakdown of those replacement costs: Construction, $4,053,535.85; existing courthouse demolition, $350,000; relocation of 911 system, $50,000; furniture/fixtures/equipment, $160,000 for a total project cost of $4,613,535.85. Adding a geothermal system brought the total cost to $4,713,927.

But at the Aug.17 public hearing designed to inform the public about the proposal, renovation was given the same $4.7 pricetag:

The Project budget -Capital and Ongoing (estimated)

CAPITAL BUDGET

Expenditures

Courthouse Renovation 4,700,000

Expenditures Subtotal 4,700,000

Revenues

Bonding/Borrowing (2,700,000)

Grants (500,000)

Reserves/Pay-as-you-go (1,500,000)

Revenues Subtotal (4,700,000)

At the same meeting, folks were told the cost to taxpayers would be based on the presumption of a $2.7 million bond (see “bonding and borrowing” under “Capital Budget,” above). But the bonding referendum put to a vote on November 2 was $4.3 million.

Burkett told me last week that the $4.7 million figure for renovation was a mistake in the prepared information that had been corrected orally at the meeting.

He also said his recommendation had been to bond for only $2.7 million, paying the rest of the costs with grants and reserves. But the county board, which determined the ballot question, presented voters with a question that gives the county the authority to bond for the full $4.3 million.

So that’s how we got to this point but it doesn’t answer what happens next. County board members have to decide whether to go ahead at all with the divisive project and, if they do, how much to borrow to pay for it.

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