County Eyes November Courthouse Bond Vote

County Eyes November Courthouse Bond Vote

By Mike Scott

Clark County voters won’t be asked to decide on whether to finance the construction of a new courthouse until at least November.
At the Thursday night, April 30 meeting of the Courthouse Committee, the committee agreed that they could not have all the necessary information in hand in time to make the May 27 deadline for a possible August election.
Although Roger Verslues of  S&V Consultants presented the committee with draft floor plans of both a 24,000 square foot one-story and 21,000 square foot multi-story courthouse building, it wasn’t enough information for the committee to act on.
Still incomplete is a space needs study of each of the county’s offices, meaning the proposed project cost is only an educated guess.
“We can throw out numbers all day long, but they’ll just bounce back until we can decide exactly what we need,” Verslues told the committee and Clark County Commissioners.  “We have to decide what kind of square footage we need to keep the county in business.”
Verslues has talked to some county offices about their space needs, but needs more time to finish with other officess.  After that, it will take about two weeks to put together finalize the plans.
Until the total size of the building, and the quality of the material are decided upon, the project cost, currently about $156 per square foot, is an estimate.   Several quality factors influence  to cost, for example, the choice of flooring and trim.
“I think we’re still in the 3.5 to 4 million dollar total,” Verslues said.
That uncertainty didn’t sit well with Greg Bricker of George K. Baum and Company, who will handle the financing of the project through a bond issue.
“We cannot put an issue on the ballot with a basic configuration.  The community is going to need an understanding of the project.  The difference between ad 21,000 square foot single story or a 24,000 square foot multi-story building is too much wiggle room in an already difficult proposition,” Bricker said.
“I thought we were coming here tonight to vote on how we’re going to fund it,” said committee member Chuck Braxton.  “We’re not near ready for that right now.”
The next issue addressed by the committee is removing the courthouse from the National Register of Historic Places.
Committee member Cinda James asked if the Verslues had any conversations about removing the building from the historic listing.  Verslues stated that the county would have to prove the need to tear the building down.
The Media contacted Mark Miles, Director of the State Historic Preservation Office to see what the process would be to remove the building from the register.  He responded:
“An owner can’t voluntarily elect to “de-list” a building.   
When a building is listed on the Register or determined to be eligible, it is based on a careful analysis of the property’s historical significance.  That analysis is conducted during the nomination process and reflects a review of the documentation submitted on the property.  This review is conducted by State Historic Preservation Office staff within the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, the Missouri Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and the Keeper of the Register at the National Park Service in the U.S. Department of the Interior.  Listing on the Register can be viewed as a “finding of fact”.  It is a reflection of the cumulative events and history associated with the property.  It is not based on the wishes or desires of the current owner. A current owner can’t unilaterally choose to make a building “non-historic”.
If a property is no longer extant, it will be de-listed based on formal de-listing actions taken by the Missouri Advisory Council and accepted by the Keeper .
It should be noted listing on the Register does not prevent a owner from demolishing a listed building.  If federal funds or a federal permit is involved, the project would need to reviewed under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 to determine the impact of the undertaking on historic resources.
The County did execute a preservation covenant on the property as a condition of accepting a grant from the State.  This covenant states that the County cannot demolish the building without approval from the Department of Natural Resources. It is our expectation that the County will make a full and good-faith effort to explore and carefully consider every possible alternative to demolition of the building.”
One unanswered question for the committee is if the building cannot be removed from the historic listing, will the county be forced to find another site for a new courthouse?
 “Until we know that, all the other steps are somewhat useless,” Bricker commented.
Bricker continued by presenting financing scenarios to the committee. Funding for a $4 million dollar general obligationbond would need to be from two sources-a sales tax increase and a property tax increase.  Both issues would need to be approved by the voters.
As an example, a 1/2 cent sales tax increase and a 10 cent bper $100 assessed valuation levy increase would generate enough revenue to repay the $4 million dollar bond.  Under that plan, a homeowner with a $100,000 home would pay about $19 per year more in residential real estate property taxes.
The sales tax issue would be placed on the ballot by the commissioners, however, Missouri law requires that in Third Class Counties, such as Clark, general obligation bonds have to come from a petition of registered voters.
“We would need approximately 400 signatures from registered voters to put it on the ballot, “Bricker said.
The committee plans to meet again at 6:00PM on June 2.  At that point, they expect to review the completed space needs survey, have some progress on the National Historic Register question, and have a price for construction based on the needs assessment.

Editor’s Note:  During the meeting, a heavy rain started falling, and Commissioners Paul Allen and Roger Sedore were forced to move their chairs because of a leak.