Having heard public comment from 18 individuals, and having received 31 pieces of written public comment, Thurston County Commissioners closed the April 23 public hearing without a vote on a drafted ballot proposition which would allow the voters to decide whether or not the county should raise the levy on property taxes for a new county courthouse and civic center.
Earlier Tuesday, during the board’s agenda setting meeting, County Manager Ramiro Chavez said the only action on the table for that evening’s public hearing was to close it. On Thursday, the board will be briefed on a public survey relating to the new courthouse, Chavez said, which could be beneficial to the board’s decision.
Earlier this year, the board voted to build the new county courthouse and civic center at a location owned by City of Olympia on Plum Street.
The current courthouse, located at 2000 Lakeridge Dr. SW in Olympia, is over 40 years and nearing the end of its lifecycle. Employees that use the courthouse have noted various problems with the buildings infrastructure. The courthouse complex was built with a 30-year lifespan.
Project Manager Rick Thomas said if the proposition were to pass, the newly constructed courthouse would have a lifecycle that surpasses the current one.
“The proposition that we have going forward would give us space to meet our 30-year needs, without having to do additional expansion within the footprint of the building,” Thomas said at the public hearing. “However, we do have a plan to be able to expand even after 30 years on the site to make this a very sustainable project.”
Addressing county commissioners, Jonathan Sprouffske, a Rainier resident with a law practice in downtown Olympia, said there’s liability that comes with the layout and structure of the current courthouse. It’s a security hazard. He said the county is lucky they haven’t faced more lawsuits and claims because of the building’s design.
“Every time that elevator door opens on the other side of the judge’s chambers, they’re not sure if it’s going to be a judge, an in-custody defendant or somebody else,” he said. “That’s a huge problem. Every other courthouse in western Washington has more security than this… one of those lawsuits makes this project infinitely more expensive.”
Thurston County Treasurer Jeff Gadman gave some remarks about the project and urged the commissioners to move forward with the project to mitigate cost increases.
“As an elected leader, I want to encourage you to act sooner rather than later,” said Gadman, a county of employee of nearly 33 years. “Construction never gets cheaper by waiting.”
If county commissioners vote to move forward with the draft ordinance, they will also choose which election the proposition will be held on. The next three election dates are up for consideration — Aug. 6, Nov. 5 and Feb. 11.
According to the draft ordinance, the estimated increase over the current levy would be $0.47 per $1,000 of assessed property value. The total cost of the 360,000 square-foot project is estimated between $237 and $315 million, according to county officials.