Proposed New Courthouse and Government Offices

Update from the June 4, 2018 Presentation by DLZ  – Part 2 of the Proposed new Justice Center

The scope of the presentation was on Plan A – a New Justice Center.  Questions were raised about the needs as well as the other options (Plan, B, C, D) that were considered.  Other options would include making needed renovations to the existing courthouse and repairing or replacing the prosecutor’s office.

Commissioners and Council stated that there would be further community meetings in order to develop a consensus that a new Justice Center is the best option for the county.

Debt that exceeds 5 million is subject to a remonstrance.  This option was not possible with the Maple Leaf project because the collateral was the innkeeper’s tax and not general funds.

About the Project

County Commissioners and Council are supporting a current proposal to build a new courthouse that will include additional government offices. The project is being marketed as a Justice Center. The old courthouse will also be re-purposed to include additional county offices as well to include new individual offices for our “part-time” commissioners.  Financial estimates and current budget practices identify that these projects will result in more debt and higher taxes.

The growth in local government spending, debt and increase in the number of government employees is in conflict with the projection from the State that we are losing population and the population we retain will be older.

Commissioners were clear on their intent for the project. They selected a firm (DLZ) with a history of designing new courthouses. They also hired a financial consultant – Umbaugh and Associates to identify financing options.  Commissioner Biddle reinforced Umbaugh’s opinion that the  “ideal time” to bid out a project would be at the end of 2018, get a bond and start construction in 2019.”

The joint meeting of the Commissioners and Council will be on June 4 at 5:00. Topics will include projected costs and financing options of new infrastructure projects. DLZ will present at 6:00. This will include their recommendation on the Justice Center and renovation costs of the old courthouse.

The previous attempt by the Commissioners and Council to borrow up to 8.25 million for a 17,400-square-foot addition to the old courthouse was defeated by taxpayers through a remonstrance.

UPDATE/CORRECTION:  A  remonstrance “IS” an option for taxpayers on this project because the loan will exceed $5 million.

The first presentation by DLZ on May 2 identified the “solution” —  a new “Justice Center”  which included a new courthouse and government office space.  DLZ did not provide details on the problem.  Details would include a thorough analysis of alternatives, workload counts, and trends, and economic projections to assess the affordability of this project on county taxpayers.

On finances, a critical consideration is the need (if available) to review the county’s capital improvement plan and budget.  This should include all infrastructure related needs and gaps.

The “ASSUMPTION” by the commissioners and council is that the costs associated with the additional debt will not have a significant impact on taxpayers.  Further, the upkeep and maintenance costs of the new projects have not been identified.  There are also overzealous assumptions regarding economic development.

The 2017 income survey identified that 53.1% of residents fall in the low to moderate income level.  As mentioned previously, Brown County is expected to lose population and the population we retain will be older which leads to decreases in the tax base.   This results in fewer people paying more in taxes and operating costs.  Consequently, any new debt and maintenance costs will result in higher taxes on the remaining population.

Finance Facts:

  • Brown County has the third highest debt per capita in the state
  • We have the 5th highest income tax rate.
  • From 2012 to 2017:
    • County Property Tax rates increased by 33%.
    • County Total Tax Levy increased by 40.4%.
    • Certified net assessment (from which property tax is derived), increased cumulatively by 5.5% which is below the inflation rate.  This contributes to the need to raise income and property taxes.

References:

Courthouse Project

May 2, 2018.  Consultant Presentation:  New Courthouse and Government Offices  – AKA  – Brown County 2018 05-02 DLZ Justice Center Feasibility Study

  • Note that DLZ can bid on any projects that are generated from the study.

Brown County Democrat

  • May 15, 2018.   Agency recommendation after study: Build new justice center
    • An agency hired to examine the future of the historic courthouse in Brown County has offered two suggestions to the Brown County Commissioners and Brown County Council.
    • Those are to move court offices to a new building that would be built next to the Brown County Law Enforcement Center and move some county employees into the current courthouse after it is renovated.
  • Jan 23, 2018.The people’s court: Courthouse project needs public input, firm says
    • The agency hired to study the future of Brown County court operations wants to make two things clear:
      • No. 1: The people need to drive this project, and; No. 2: Whatever it ends up being, it needs to be something taxpayers can afford.
      • “I can’t stress this enough: The solution at the end of the day can’t be that we’re going to build this huge facility that’s going to meet the community’s needs for 50-plus years, but we can’t afford it,” said DLZ principal architect Eric Ratts
  • Jan 6, 2018Courthouse feasibility study kickoff meeting date set . A group will meet to discuss the next steps in what to do about the historic Brown County Courthouse next week.
  • Oct 17, 2017. Another annex? New study being done on courthouse future. For the fourth time in eight years, a study is being done on making changes to the historic Brown County Courthouse. This time, the study also will look at building a new, separate county annex building somewhere in downtown Nashville.
    • Biddle said that Umbaugh, the county’s financial consultant, said the “ideal time” to bid out a project would be at the end of 2018, get a bond and start construction in 2019.
    • The Brown County Commissioners and Brown County Council went ahead with plans to borrow up to $8.25 million to build a 17,400-square-foot addition. But taxpayers soundly defeated that proposal with a remonstrance, and citizen committees began studying other options.

Indiana Public Media: wfiu, npr, WTIU

County Website – General Information Including previous Courthouse Studies and Proposals:

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