Public weighs in on proposal to move Moffat County Courthouse
Special to the Craig Press
A second hearing by Moffat County commissioners Monday on a proposal to consolidate county facilities — including the courthouse — into a vacant retail store was mostly met by public approval.
“Hopefully, we really found a solution,” said Craig resident Lennie Gillam. “I’m really proud of the commissioners for thinking outside of the box.”
For years the 14th Judicial District has asked the county to seek a solution to worsening safety, security and space issues at the courthouse. Challenges include a lack of fire suppression systems, inmates escorted through public hallways and jury trials tending to clog the stairway.
“It’s a huge issue,” Brad McDermott, a court security deputy, said during public comment. “(The stairway’s) very small, it’s very narrow.”
In 2019, the county addressed the possibility of alleviating some of the problems by spending $600,000 to add to the building a single point of entry, said Moffat County Services Director Ron Tipton. Tipton, however, described last year’s proposal as a “Band-Aid” solution, prompting the county to seek further options.
Earlier this year, following a $120,000 feasibility study mostly defrayed by state grants, the county came up with two major options: either spend more than $45.5 million to renovate and add onto the existing courthouse or move it into the old Kmart building at nearly half the cost. The vacant building spans 96,046 square feet, while the property itself is 11 acres.
With an estimated price tag of about $25.28 million, the project would consolidate the courthouse, the Department of Human Services and county extension buildings. And the county sales tax revenue currently in place would be reserved to offset costs, commissioner Ray Beck noted in his opening statement during Monday’s meeting.
During the public comment period, however, Craig resident Glenda Bellio questioned whether sales tax revenue – which currently brings in about $1 million per year, Tipton noted – would prove stable enough for the county to avoid incurring future tax hikes.
“You’re using sales tax projections for right now – not into what we know is our perceivable future and the high potential for a much lower sales tax revenue,” she said.
Trapper Mine, one of the county’s largest employers, announced it would cease operations sometime between 2026-2030, the Craig Press reported earlier this year. The operation, which supplies coal to Craig Station Units 1 and 2, employs about 185 people. It would be a huge blow to the local economy if the facility closes earlier than projected.
Beck said that Moffat County has some major energy projects in the works, including transmission lines and solar projects, to bring in additional revenue. He also said the county can still lean on things like tourism and the housing market to pick up the pieces.
Another public concern: what happens to the county offices left vacant if in fact the commission approves moving everything into the Kmart building?
The county could sell those buildings at minimal cost, Beck said, the new owners “could take over the building or they could tear it down and do whatever with the land.” He also said the county has the option to move forward with the demolition process if the buildings remain unsold.
“I’ve also lived in this community long enough to see that we as taxpayers and representatives have a tendency to shoot pie in the sky and wind up shooting ourselves in the foot on our new buildings,” Bellio later responded. “We always think they’re going to be super great things, but they end up costing us big time.”
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One of Craig’s most iconic and historic buildings will celebrate its 100th birthday next week, prompting museum staff and supporters to gather on Tuesday to acknowledge the building’s importance to the community.