Supervisors to put courthouse annex on ballot

BY DANIEL SEIDL | MAY 16, 2014 5:00 AM

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An Iowa City landmark may be moving closer to improvement.

The Johnson County Board of Supervisors will vote next week to place the Johnson County Courthouse annex bond referendum on the ballot in November.

Supervisor Rod Sullivan said it is important to get this item approved as soon as possible.

“A number of people in the community go away for the summer,” he said. “This way, they’ll have an opportunity to implant in their brains that this is something they will be voting on in November.”

The supervisors have planned additions to the courthouse for several years. There are various safety concerns with the building, as well as a lack of space.

Before this proposal, the county had recommended a referendum including courthouse and jail improvements.

“We’ve tried two times to combine those projects into one building that we called the justice center,” said Supervisor¬† Chairman Terrence Neuzil. “That ballot initiative failed.”

The board decided to separate the two projects after public comment.

Splitting the projects may ensure that the courthouse improvements are completed as soon as possible, Neuzil said.

“I believe there is a sense from each of the policymakers, me being one of them, that there is a better chance to address the courthouse need first,” he said. “That’s why we are pursuing a ballot initiative to address the courthouse annex that would connect to the existing courthouse.”

Much of the negative public comment after the previous votes was about the jail, Supervisor John Etheredge said, and the courthouse may be more likely to pass separately.

“Last time, we heard a lot of citizens being opposed to the jail,” he said. “There didn’t seem to be that much opposition to the courthouse.”

The annex will add additional courtrooms, and the total cost will be roughly $30 million. Etheredge said the additional space will facilitate the justice process.

“Right now, civil cases are waiting at least two years,” he said. “That’s just a really long time. To expedite those cases as well as other cases ‚Ķ would just be phenomenal, and I think it would also decrease our jail population.”

After the courthouse vote, the county may wait a while for the jail project, Neuzil said.

“I don’t anticipate that we will have any new bond referendums in the immediate future beyond this one, but the issue doesn’t go away,” he said.

Neuzil added the county is prepared to spend as much as $2.5 million to maintain the current jail while officials work on a plan for enhancements.

“Beyond that, it will be the next major project for Johnson County government to have to address,” he said. “It will take quite a bit of work to persuade a pretty progressive county that you have to have a place for those who are in jail.”

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