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BENTONVILLE -- The cost of Benton County's proposed courts building has jumped from an early estimate of around $25 million to almost $30 million.

County Judge Barry Moehring briefed justices of the peace on the courts building at Tuesday's Committee of the Whole meeting.

Tax incentives

Benton County’s justices of the peace were asked Tuesday to approve issuing $400 million in industrial development revenue bonds for Simmons Foods and for the company to participate in a property tax rebate program. The Committee of the Whole was presented a proposal approving Simmons Foods for the “payment in lieu of taxes” program in conjunction with the recently approved $300 million plant near Gentry. The Quorum Court will host a public hearing on the issue March 22.

Source: Benton County

Moehring said the increase is needed for the building to meet needs. Keeping the budget to $25 million would eliminate one floor of the building and "guarantee" the county will need another building much sooner than the 50 to 100 years the building is projected to serve, he said.

"If you guys say it's $25 million or nothing, we'll come back with $25 million," Moehring said. "You're not going to like it."

Tom Allen, justice of the peace for District 4 and chairman of the Finance Committee, said the $25 million estimate is a good estimate of the cost of what is needed.

"We did set the bar, we set it at $20 million to $25 million," Allen said. "We did our best to meet that bar."

"This building is a picture of compromise on every level," Moehring said. "We've tried to thread the needle as much as we can."

Moehring said the county has budgeted $1.5 million in 2018 for architectural and engineering work on the building. Brian Jackson with Hight Jackson Associates said the $1.5 million is part of the total estimated cost.

Moehring said the timeline for the project is to break ground in January and complete the construction in 24 to 36 months.

The county has been working on a courts building for several years. The most recent concept shows a four-story building with about 86,000 square feet of space on a site on Northeast Second Street in Bentonville.

The old Post Office building, which houses Circuit Judge Brad Karren's court, will be retained for use. The current courthouse will house the Prosecutor's Office and other county offices and would be renovated. The old county jail, just east of the courthouse, would be demolished to clear an area for construction staging and possible expansion of the courts system. The cost to renovate the courthouse and demolish the old jail isn't included in the new building costs.

Pat Adams, justice of the peace for District 6, said he thinks the $25 million estimate is too low and should include larger contingencies and the cost of demolition of the old jail.

"I'd like to have that number before we make a final decision," Adams said of the demolition costs. "That needs to be figured in."

Plans for the new building call for space to accommodate eight courtrooms, jury deliberation rooms and judges' chambers with space for the circuit clerk, county clerk and other related offices. The county now has six circuit court judges with five housed in the downtown area and the sixth at the Juvenile Justice Center on Melissa Drive. The fourth floor of the new building, with room for two of the eight courtrooms, would be be left as a shell and finished when needed. The cost of finishing the fourth floor isn't included in the estimates for the building project.

The building on Second Street has had an estimated cost of $25 million for the past several months. The Quorum Court has said as much as $5 million of the cost could be covered with money from the $13 million unappropriated reserve. The justices of the peace have discussed funding options for the remaining cost that could include cutting the budget; using fines, fees and forfeitures or other revenue; and a dedicated sales tax.

Susan Anglin, justice of the peace for District 9, said she's pleased with the work the county has done on the project so far.

"It's an exciting time in our county," Anglin said. "We need to stand together and go forward."

NW News on 02/14/2018

Print Headline: County courts building costs increase

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