Moffat County Commissioners tour secure areas after courthouse replacement talks
Moffat County Commissioners are working to update or replace the Moffat County Courthouse, and end the cycle of money invested into updating the obsolete and aging building.
Commissioners met at 9 a.m. at the courthouse Monday morning, Dec. 16 with Roy Tipton, the county’s director of development services, and Lennie Gillam, the county’s facilities director, to get a tour of secure areas and an update on a potential grant to update or help replace Craig and Moffat County’s courthouse. The courthouse houses the 14th Judicial District Attorneys, county probation, combined courts and clerks, and commissioners admin staff, among others under one roof.
Tipton and other staff are worried investing any more money into the courthouse’s aging infrastructure is folly.
“If you put a bunch of money into this building you’re still going to have issues you can’t deal with,” Tipton told commissioners. “You’ll see when we walk around. Inmate transfer is a nightmare for the sheriff’s office. It’s a situation where something’s waiting to happen where someone gets seriously injured,” he said. “Because we’ve known about this — this has been known about for a long time, I think when that day happens, we’re going to be exposed. The county would be exposed to that liability.”
Deputy Brad McDermott was there to help lead the tour of secure courthouse areas, a tour the Craig Press was allowed to accompany. McDermott led commissioners and staff down small hallways adjacent to simple offices in the DA’s office, the clerks of court, and courtrooms. A narrow, secure stair case of several flights is used to transport inmates to court. McDermott said there have been confrontations during such transports and warned such contact with sheriff’s inmates during transport is prohibited.
“There’ve been multiple times where I’ve gotten out of the vehicle with an inmate and had a confrontation with somebody because they know they’re going to court,” McDermott said. “Ya know, ‘Hey I wanna hug my whoever’ and maybe do something, and its like, ‘No, you can not.’”
Tipton wants to use possible grants to study all the county’s options, including grants for eligible security upgrades at the courthouse.
“If we move forward, that means, if we roll that money over from the security project into 2020, you could use some of that to do this study, which I still think is the right thing to do before you go spending $600,000 on security,” Tipton told commissioners.
Commissioner Don Cook spoke of the possibility the courts could get involved.
“If we don’t do something like this, or something more reasonable…If a judge were to come in and say, ‘You need to build a new courthouse,’ that could be $30 million or more,” Cook said.
Tipton said it could end up being more.
“Because of the other requirements for security, that pushes that price,” Tipton said. “I think you’re talking about $35 (million).”
Tipton wants to repurpose old bond dollars from the public safety center to help pay for a remodeled old Kmart building. According to a previous Craig Press report, in October, Tipton floated the idea to commissioners.
“Funding for a remodel project could be provided partially through grants along with a 1.5-cent sales tax that is dedicated to paying for the bonds that financed the Public Safety Center built in 2000,” the October commissioners packet said. “These bonds will be retired in 2023 and 2025, which would free up revenue that could be applied to improvements at the courthouse. These revenues were approved by the voters for capital projects, so another ballot question would not have to take place.”
Gillam, the county’s facilities director, said he’s tired of asking taxpayers for money to fix the courthouse.
“Every time we go and ask you guys for money to put more money into this place, we’re throwing good money after bad,” Gillam said. “…We’re to the point where we can’t do much else with this building. We’ve got a lot of lost space that’s just not usable space. We’re dealing with ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant issues right and left because none of that stuff is in here. I know we’ve talked about remodeling that old (courthouse) building and this building. It is so complicated to getting anything done in this building without it being an astronomical price tag.
“Aside from all the other safety issues we’ve got, yeah, it’s a nice old car… but it’s nickel and diming us to death,” Gillam said. “It is only a matter of time before it puts us out there to some big lawsuit. Through the years we’ve had people complain about the ADA compliance stuff. We’ve tried to find money for that. That’s a major overhaul.”
Gillam said he wasn’t always convinced the old Kmart building would be good for the county.
“I was totally opposed to it at first,” Gillam said. “But when we went into that Kmart, after we went in that place and walked around and looked and we really started talking about how we could build that out however we needed, however we wanted. I’m all for that. Just because mechanically, everything is there. You can do everything we need to do because you start with a nice clean open slate.”
The old Kmart building could accommodate traffic patterns that protect the courts, their staffs, and attorneys from public traffic in the area.
“Right now we don’t have any of that,” Tipton said of the required separate access points for the public and court officials. “All the traffic flows together.”
McDermott told commissioners that puts deputies at risk.
“That’s a safety issue for any deputy taking an inmate down there,” McDermott said.
Tipton is hoping to secure some $80,000 in grant money from the underfunded courthouse facilities fund and the Department of Local Affairs plus another $40,000 in matched monies of which the county will come up with half to study all the county’s options. Tipton is also close to finding a contractor to help them with the study.
“So what I’m trying to do is get this out to bid and get a firm selected,” Tipton said.
Tipton wants the public to know they don’t plan on asking for more money to accomplish the courthouse initiative.
“The misconception in the public is ‘You’re going to go out asking for money for this,’ and we can get it done without doing that,” Tipton said. “We don’t have to.”