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Supervisor responds to 'attacks,' keeps working on Justice Center

BY GUEST OPINION | MARCH 05, 2012 6:30 AM

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It is a shame to the integrity of this office the deplorable bullying tactics, name-calling, swearing innuendos, half-truths, emails, and other means that two members of the Board of Supervisors have done to try to force my hand and vote their way on the financing of the Justice Center.

I will stand up for my convictions and will work to find an agreement that a majority of us can agree on. I came into Feb. 29 meeting with a notion that we would seek compromise; instead, it was nothing but a "do it my way" or we'll put our hands up and quit working on the Justice Center issue and blame you, and only you, for killing it.

To create a more safe and secure courthouse and jail, the Justice Center project would utilize our existing Courthouse, phase out the existing jail and would include a new five-level Justice Center on the hill behind the Courthouse. It would have full construction of a 243-bed Jail and Sheriff's Office, new space for the Clerk of Court, five additional courtrooms and judge's chambers, additional office space and programming for treatments and alternatives, a new secure entrance way into the existing Courthouse, and all site development on the Courthouse block including 50 parking spaces.

To help save money in the bond vote request, the board agreed we would reduce the size and scope of the architects' full cost of the Justice Center Project from $53.197 million to $48.123 million. We would do so by eliminating existing Courthouse remodeling and renovation for the county attorney and meeting rooms ($3,130,091). We would also eliminate completion (shelling) of two new courtrooms in the new facility ($425,000), eliminate a new 64-space parking lot on the south block ($250,000), and reduce additional project soft costs ($1,269,521).

With all five supervisors in agreement, we looked at using all of the County's Capital Reserves Fund of $5.2 million, bringing the costs associated with a voter approved bond vote of $42.9 million. I was the holdout on that number. My goal was to put "more skin" into the process in an effort to show to taxpayers that our board would sacrifice and tighten our belt on future priorities, just as we are asking residents to tighten their belt in support of a bond referendum.

My original number was to keep the bond-request at or near $39 million as what the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee had agreed to and come up with an additional $4 million by doing a combination of strategies. These include using future debt-service bonding. By doing so, we would not be saving dollars, but we would be encumbering those dollars toward this project and not be putting it into other priorities.

I was lambasted as "playing politics" by Supervisor Rod Sullivan and was repeatedly told that this was "dishonest" by Supervisor Janelle Rettig. Without consensus, I then compromised my position by meeting halfway to $40.9 million, agreeing to just using future capital-improvement dollars in fiscal years 2014 and 2015, equaling $2 million.

Again, no consensus, particularly out of concern of "making" a future board put those dollars toward the project, even though we have funding "placeholder" mechanisms — through trust-accounts within the budget — if a future board could not meet that obligation. I then offered to look at ballot language that would include selling the existing jail building and applying those dollars toward the project.

Unfortunately, name-calling and other bullying tactics prevailed drowning out any chance for this idea or any other issue to have future discussion. We left the meeting without unanimous consent and some members of the board declaring the Justice Center was over.

Despite the rhetoric, the Justice Center is not dead. Late on March 2, I was requested by Sullivan to identify proposals for the board to review for a meeting that we have scheduled for this coming Wednesday at 2 p.m. That information has been forwarded, through an organizational chart that I have developed, to the Board and to members of the coordinating committee. Wednesday's meeting is essential because it will allow our county financial team, including members of the Treasurer's Office and other financial experts, to finally have a look at all of the proposals.

In the end, there will be compromise to place this issue on the ballot for the people to decide. I also believe our finance team will likely scrutinize my plan and the majority's plan and will give us a third option that likely will show more caution toward the Reserves Fund. I will plan to keep an open mind and can only hope others will respecfully do so as well.

Terrence L. Neuzil is an elected supervisor of Johnson County.


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