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Thurston County Board of Commissioners will hear whether or not voters would like them to move forward with a drafted ballot proposition to raise the levy on property tax rates to fund the construction of a new courthouse and civic center in downtown Olympia. 

Last Tuesday, April 2, the board voted to approve to hold a public hearing at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 23, to hear public testimony from county residents on the ordinance. The board could take a vote on the ordinance following the hearing to approve the proposition. The hearing will be hosted at the Thurston County Courthouse Complex, Building 1, Room 280. 

If passed, the ordinance, which would be put to a majority vote by county commissioners, would approve the proposition to be submitted to the county auditor. County staff have not yet determined which election the proposition would run on if passed, but the next three election dates — Aug. 6, Nov. 5 and Feb. 11 — are up for consideration by the board. 

Thurston County Manager Ramiro Chavez said building a new courthouse isn’t just a means to update the aging facilities. A new courthouse and civic center would allow the county to better serve residents, especially with large population increases expected within the coming decades.

“Right now we have an aging infrastructure… we’re spending a lot of money to maintain what we have without the option to increase capacity,” Chavez said. 

According to the draft ordinance, the estimated increase over the current levy would be $0.47 per $1,000 of assessed property value. This estimate is based off a ballpark, high-level estimate cost for the courthouse, Chavez said. The total cost is estimated between $237 and $315 million, according to county officials.  

Back in January, the Board of County Commissioners voted to build the new courthouse and civic center at a downtown location owned by the City of Olympia on Plum Street. Two other options were considered by the board. The current courthouse, located at 2000 Lakeridge Dr. SW in Olympia, is over 40 years old and multiple infrastructural problems have been noted over the last decade.

According to official statements from the county, the current courthouse buildings are at the end of their lifecycle, and maintaining and operating them is a significant cost of taxpayer dollars. The current layout of the courthouse also presents challenges when conducting business.

Through the county’s acquisition of the Plum Street site, Chavez said there will be a great consolidation of services for county residents. Olympia Municipal Court, currently located at the site, will be merged into one campus with the construction of the county courthouse. 

“It really goes back to the services that we’re provide to the citizens and the services that we’re going to supply in the future,” he said. 

Residents within Thurston County can also write in public comments to be considered by the board. The deadline is noon on Tuesday, April 23. Letters should be addressed to the county manager. 

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