Court building again possible for justice project


JASPER — Moving the entire justice system to a new facility near Dubois County's security and community corrections centers is again being considered.

But before any decision is made, the Dubois County Commissioners plan to discuss it again at their Dec. 21 meeting, to give the public a chance to comment.

The idea of a judicial building had been nixed for the time being because of cost concerns. But now that new revenue numbers are available and more comments have come in from the public, the commissioners are wondering if the building should be designed and put out for bid with the rest of the proposed renovations.

Baker Tilly, the financial planners for the project, estimated that the project could have a maximum of about $42 million available. That would include the money the county council has committed to the project, money from the bond sales and revenue generated from the corrections and rehabilitation income tax; that tax was put in place last year. That could cover the entire project, including the court building, Commissioners President Chad Blessinger said Monday.

Baker Tilly’s calculations for the tax revenue factors a 10% decrease in revenue in 2022, 5% decrease in 2023 and a flat rate for the remaining term of the 20-year bond.

“This is assuming that nobody’s income goes up,” Blessinger said, “that we don’t create any new jobs and everyone’s income is flat.”

Historically, there has been income increases and new jobs created each year, he said.

Commissioner Elmer Brames asked if the numbers presented included other costs, like costs for programming, or if there would be revenue left from the corrections and rehabilitation income tax for those costs.

Blessinger said that Baker Tilly has said that there would still be a remaining revenue balance of more half a million dollars each year, above the money estimated for the project, Blessinger said. “Those funds could be used for programming, or anything of that nature,” he said.

The commissioners had decided this summer to wait on constructing a court building after hearing concerns about funding from the council and concerns from public, including some downtown merchants who were worried about different functions moving out of the downtown area.

In the last few weeks, Blessinger said, he has heard from other merchants and and other officials from other municipalities saying that they would support moving the courts and justice departments out by the security and community corrections centers. Also, Judge Nathan Verkamp has suggested that a trial courtroom be constructed at or near the security center.

So Blessinger asked on Monday if the commissioners wanted to add the court building back into the justice center project. The design and construction documents for the project are currently being created without the court building; the commissioners could keep going with that plan. The other option is to add the court building back into the design and bid that as a separate project to see what the cost would come in as, and then decide whether or not to construct the facility. But that decision has to be made soon, Blessinger said.

Commissioner Nick Hostetter said he would support adding the court building to create a judicial campus, if enough revenue was available to cover the cost and the bids were reasonable.

He does not like the idea of having one of the courtrooms and some judicial functions out near the security center while the rest stay at the courthouse. “If we start going down that road,” Hostetter said, “ultimately we're going to spend a lot more money to accomplish a little less than we would if we did the full judicial center.”

Brames said that while he is in favor of the justice campus, he does not want the commissioners to act quick in adding the court building back into the project.

“Let's have a little more public input on that,” he said. “We've raised the issue now, and the possibility that we want to put it back in. Let's keep the discussion going.”

The commissioners will continue their discussion at the Monday, Dec. 21 meeting, which starts at 8:30 a.m. at the Dubois County Courthouse Annex, 602 Main St., Jasper.

The commissioners also:

• Extended the county’s emergency disaster declaration to Monday, Jan. 4.

• Heard that White Stallion, the parent company of Solar Sources, has filed for Chapter 11. The mining company has paid the first installment of the cost it was sharing with the county for work on County Road 800 West. Dubois County Highway Supervisor Steve Berg said he was not sure how the bankruptcy will affect the company paying the rest of its share on the road, but it does hold a bond that could be cashed if needed, to help with the cost. The county does not yet have the final invoice for roadwork, which was estimated to total about $315,800.

• Gave the Indiana Department of Transportation permission to restrict traffic on Ferdinand Road East near I-64 so that INDOT can paint the bridge. INDOT did not give dates for the work, but it will happen between March and July, County Engineer Brent Wendholt told the commissioners. The road will remain open during the work; a flagger will be in the area to direct traffic.

• Approved the inter-local agreement for a planning grant the Indiana State Department of Health is giving for the countywide trails master plan. Jasper will be the main agency that will be in correspondence with the state health department. Jasper and Huntingburg officials have already approved the agreement.

• Awarded annual bids for various materials used by the highway department, such as pipe, stone and concrete.

• Agreed to keep Suzan Henke as the county ambulance coordinator for another year, through 2021. Henke, who has been the coordinator for years, is planning to retire as Memorial Hospital and Health Care Center's ambulance director in July.

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