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Johnson County officials aim for justice-center education ahead of May 7

BY STACEY MURRAY | APRIL 30, 2013 5:00 AM

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With one week until the second vote on the proposed Johnson County justice center, officials are looking to  communicate their proposal to Johnson County voters because they say they are running out of two necessities:  alternatives and space.

“Here we are — it’s not that far away,” Johnson County Supervisor Terrence Neuzil said. “We’re encouraging residents to be educated about the issue.”

The supervisors met with city officials from Johnson County on Wednesday to discuss the proposed center and alternatives to filling it. The special election for the second vote on the center is May 7.

The original proposal received a 56 percent affirmative vote in November 2012, 4 percent short of the 60 percent needed for approval.

Immediately following the rejection of the center proposal, the supervisors held public forums to make appropriate changes to the proposal in hopes of the community passing it.

The supervisors said the cost was a major concern for the community. To lessen the costs, the proposed center will include 195 beds as opposed to the original 243 beds. The center would see four courtrooms instead of six. Additionally, the new proposal includes more masonry instead of glasswork, and the county will pay for an additional $2.7 million of the project. These projects decreased the cost of the project by roughly $3.3 million.

The proposed center is the same size as the previous proposed center — approximately 153,800 square feet — and would be connected to the current Courthouse.

Neuzil said the supervisors moved quickly because they wanted to keep the project fresh in voters’ minds, and they wanted students to be able to participate in the vote.

Additionally, he said the issues behind the need for the justice center won’t change and the issue won’t go away — it will only get more expensive.

“If you vote no, the issue doesn’t go away,” Neuzil said. “Costs rarely go down.”

He estimates the costs of a new justice center would increase by 4 to 8 percent each year.

As the proposal has developed, county officials have looked for alternatives to jailing but said the justice center is an inevitable need.

“There’s only so much you can do,” Supervisor Rod Sullivan said. “You can do alternatives, but they require space, and we don’t have [it].”

Sullivan said he acknowledges the public’s inquiries for alternatives and while officials concur, the center would be an opportunity for additional options.

“We just nod our head and agree, but we’re pretty much maxed out,” he said.

However, a vocal opposition to the proposal maintains that the changes made to the plan are not enough. They contend the proposal is still too expensive and needs further alteration before the public should vote yes.

One Iowa City resident said Monday that the supervisors should work quickly to educate the public before the proposal comes to its second vote next week.

“I think it would improve the county to contact the various interdisciplinaries in light of this discussion,” Bob Welsh said. “I think to take that action now would be important prior to the vote coming up and take steps to move that discussion forward would be helpful.”


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