Courthouse

A watercolor rendering shows what the new courthouse and civic center on Plum Street could look like.

Voters will decide in April 2020 whether or not they would like to pay for a new Thurston County courthouse and civic center. 

Thurston County Board of Commissioners voted 2-1 Tuesday, April 30 to approve the drafted proposition, which will be sent to the Thurston County Auditor’s Office for approval. Commissioners Tye Menser and John Hutchings voted to approve the measure and Commissioner Gary Edwards voted against. 

This proposition would increase the county resident’s regular property tax levy an estimated $0.47 per $1,000 of property assessed to pay for the construction of a new county courthouse at a site on Plum Street. If approved, the levy will take effect in 2021. 

The election will take place April 28, 2020.

The monthly rate increase for a home valued at $275,000 would be about $12, said Assistant County Manager Robin Campbell. This figure is based on a 25-year maximum. 

Many county employees and elected officials have noted the decrepit nature of the courthouse, currently at 2000 Lakeridge Dr., which buildings are at the end of their useful life. 

Before the vote, Edwards voiced his opposition to move forward with the proposition. He said he wasn’t sure the taxpayers would be willing to vote for the proposition and re-emphasized his disapproval for the downtown site. 

“I just don’t think a $300 million investment in downtown Olympia is the right way to go,” he said. 

Edwards also said he would be in favor of remodelling or modifying the current courthouse at Lakeridge Drive to address safety concerns and the crumbling infrastructure. He also said he hasn’t yet met a single constituent that was in favor of building a new courthouse. 

Menser then brought up the issue of space, which he said the district court has been operating on 50 percent of its needed space. With projected population increases, Menser said the county will continue to outgrow the current structure.

“So much work and investment has gone into bringing this process to this place that it deserves to go to the voters, and I’d like to see it do that and we’ll provide information to the voters about it and they will make the decision,” Menser said. “I think this is the right decision for our community at this time.” 

Edwards contended that he believes the county is rushing too quickly for a fix that could ultimately end up sowing distrust with the people if it fails. 

“My fear is that this thing is voted down,” Edwards said. “Then we’re stuck.” 

Hutchings said regardless of if the current courthouse was built on the cheap or its purely lived out its life, maintaining the current courthouse is a deep expense.  

He said the county is currently spending about $1 million for maintenance and roughly $1 million in repairs. 

“I agree. If we do nothing, we’re stuck. If it goes to the ballot and it’s voted down, we’re stuck,” he said. “For me, it’s a wash there. And again, I’m not doing anything other than letting citizens vote.” 

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