Johnson County Courthouse vote set for November

Building would cost $30.8 million, won't include new jail

The Johnson County Courthouse, is seen from the air Monday, May 6, 2013. (Liz Martin/The Gazette-KCRG)
The Johnson County Courthouse, is seen from the air Monday, May 6, 2013. (Liz Martin/The Gazette-KCRG)

IOWA CITY — Johnson County voters will go to the polls Nov. 4 to decide the fate of a $30.8 million court building.

The county’s Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Thursday to set the election date and the ballot language for the project.

The 72,000-square-foot building would be built immediately south of the existing county courthouse, 417 S. Clinton St. in Iowa City. It is to include six new courtrooms, technology upgrades, a connection to the current courthouse and four conference rooms to resolve space and safety concerns at the existing 113-year-old courthouse.

Thursday’s vote was expected. County officials for months have said they were eyeing a November election date, and last week the supervisors informally said they were ready to set the date and the ballot language.

It will be the third time in two years a criminal justice bond referendum goes to Johnson County voters.

Bond issues of roughly $50 million for a justice center, which would have included a new jail and court space, failed in November 2012 and one year ago.

Opposition to those projects was focused on the jail, so the supervisors chose to send just a courthouse annex to voters this year in hopes of getting approval.

Supervisors Chairman Terrence Neuzil cautioned that the county will continue to have a “big issue and void in not having an adequate jail.”

Officials say the jail is unsafe, and the county constantly has more inmates than beds and pays to house overflow inmates elsewhere, primarily in the Muscatine County Jail.

“This is now, in some sense, creating phases of the project,” Neuzil said. “This is phase I, I guess.”

The county plans to spend $3.5 million to address immediate needs at the jail.

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