The Mohave County Board of Supervisors voted 4 to 1 this past month to go forward in their plans to build a multi-million dollar courthouse expansion in downtown Kingman. Supervisor Buster Johnson, the lone vote against the project, questioned not only the chosen location but the financial stability of the project. “I don’t agree that we should move ahead with this project. The county has other immediate needs that I feel should have been taken care of before we looked into a new courthouse,” Supervisor Buster Johnson stated. According to County Administrator Mike Hendrix, the funding for the project will come from the quarter cent sales tax fund. Johnson’s concern is that the current balance in the fund will be depleted next year to pay off the jail and that the incoming sales tax for the next three years won’t be enough to cover the courthouse let alone other necessary concerns of the county. The courthouse expansion was put on the top of the county’s capital fund improvement project list last year by the Mohave County Board of Supervisors. “I believe the most immediate needs of the county are the sheriff substation, animal control and the coroner, but the board voted for the courts,” Johnson explained. The National Center for State Courts recently completed a Design Feasibility Study bringing forth two different options for the board to choose from. Option A was to build a new court house next to the jail near the County Administration Complex. “This is the option I was pushing for. It would make more sense to have the courthouse next to the jail. It would save in transportation costs for prisoners and would put the majority of the county buildings in one central location,” Supervisor Buster Johnson explained. Option B was to expand and renovate the historical courthouse in downtown Kingman. “This is a 100 year old courthouse. Expanding onto it is going to take away its historical value. In order to keep the integrity and history of the building it was my idea to eventually turn it into a park or an event center where folks can perform weddings or other small gatherings,” Johnson stated. According to the Design Feasibility Study, the price difference between the two options was estimated at half a million dollars with option A estimated at roughly $19-22 million and option B at $18-21.5 million. “These estimates are only preliminary. The Board will not be able to fund the project until at least 2019 and by then building costs and materials could be more expensive. The estimated price quote also did not include architectural designs, furnishing and other items which could push this project well over $30 million,” Johnson explained. The Board still voted 4 to 1 to go ahead with option B. “While they claim option A may have been a bit more expensive, I don’t believe that is true. I believe option B solved all the problems with the current courthouse. I agree that the current courthouse is a historical building, but I do not believe even after renovations it will be sustainable enough to continue to meet the court’s needs,” Johnson stated. “Just expanding onto it isn’t going to fix the current parking issue nor is it going to fix the security problem. Option A would have solved these problems and left room for further growth in future years. With the option the board chose, the county will be landlocked in and unable to expand further down the road,” Johnson explained. According to Court Administrator Kip Anderson, the current courthouse has several security issues when it comes to inmates being transported from the jail to the courthouse on the other side of town. Aside from voting on the courthouse option, the board also voted 4 to 1 to move forward with hiring an architect. “Why are we spending $1-3 million dollars right now on a project that will not be considered until at least 2019?” Johnson questioned. According to Administrator Hendrix, the quarter cent sales tax fund is estimated to bring in $6.1 million a year before it sunsets in the first half of 2020 leaving it with a total estimated balance of $20 million. “By paying off the jail early, the county will save around $2.5 million, but we will have to start absorbing the maintenance cost for the jail which is estimated to be roughly $700,000 a year now and that amount will continue to go up in the future,” Johnson explained. “I do not believe there will be enough money in the fund to go ahead with the new courthouse in 2019, and there certainly will not be enough money left for other buildings, such as a new animal shelter, that I feel are most important,” Johnson said. It was discussed during the meeting that extra money could come out of the Vehicle Replacement Fund which currently has a balance of around $6.8 million. “When I first came into office in 1997, we had Sheriff Deputies coming to us asking us for new vehicles because theirs were outdated and unsafe to drive. Nearly all of our county vehicles at that time had 200,000 miles or more on them. We worked hard to implement the vehicle replacement program, and it has saved county taxpayers money. We currently have 239 vehicles of which only 2 belong to the courts,” Johnson said. “If we sweep the money from this fund to pay for the courthouse project, we are no better than the state legislators who swept money to balance their budget,” Johnson stated. The board voted to hire the architect and to take the money from the general fund for it. The item will be brought back to the board next month to determine an exact funding source.
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