[Vision2020] Courthouse Expansion

Bill London london@moscow.com
Fri, 31 Jan 2003 13:59:24 -0800

> The message below is from V2020 subscriber Jeff Harkins.  For techno-reasons
> as yet unexplained he was unable to post it directly and asked me to do so.
> BL

> Dear Visionnaires,
> I wondered if I would be able to get to this issue before Dave Barry picked
> it up. The Courthouse expansion for Latah County would make an interesting
> scenario for his Sunday column. His premise would be, no doubt, "doesn't it
> just fit that a bureaucracy would spend $20,000 'educating the masses about
> the need for a new courthouse' with an advertising campaign that must be
> designed in such a way that the advertising is not to influence a voter's
> opinion in how they would vote!" The media must be information free, e.g.,
> not persuade voter's to vote for or against the project. My oh my!
> Information free - yes, most adults realize that information can accomplish
> only two things: 1) confirm that which you already know (making you more
> confident in what you believe to be true or 2) contradict that which you
> know - thereby causing you to begin to reflect on whether you might need to
> change your mind (or just ignore the contradiction, since that would mean
> you did not really know truth - i.e., you were wrong! - ;-))
> The courthouse project, however well-intended, is the wrong project at the
> wrong time. Given the limited resources available to Latah County
> residents, taxing and spending $2.5 million for a courthouse expansion is a
> low priority and a bad investment in the current economic climate. We have
> far more pressing needs for our limited resource base - and it would be
> wise to target expenditures in those areas that would have the greatest
> impact on economic development. Investing in a capital infrastructure
> project that provides little or no economic return to the community is not
> the kind of capital expenditure our community can afford at this time.
> I think it is important to recognize that a majority of our workforce (UI
> and WSU employees) have not had a raise in two years - and the prospect for
> raises in the next three or four years appear bleak. And there is the
> prospect of increasing state taxes ......... Of course, if new state taxes
> do not come forth - imagine what the impact on the Latah County economic
> situation will be .......... Further, the UI budget cuts are just now
> beginning to be felt in the county - and these cuts will be with us through
> 2005 - if state taxes are raised. The cuts will increase if state taxes are
> not raised. With a lagging local economy and a clearly uncertain economic
> future, it just doesn't make sense to expand the courthouse at this time.
> Yes, I have read and studied the arguments for the expansion - and sadly,
> they are not compelling or convincing. For example, it has been argued that
> "we have come too far down the road to turn back now." The public has its'
> first chance to vote on the project next week - how could we have gone too
> far before we even vote???
> I have read that the courthouse expansion project is " ... an opportunity
> that isn't going to happen again for a long time....We've got four percent
> interest rate and $2.5 million estimate which isn't a lot at this time."
> Well, one needs to think about why the interest rate is 4% - it reflects
> the general state of the capital markets - and they are not very healthy
> and since the longer term rates are similarly depressed, investors don't
> seem to have a lot of confidence in a quick turn around for the economy.
> And I am similarly puzzled about the notion that $2.5 million is not a lot
> of money. With a 16,800 square foot project costing $2.5 million, that
> computes to construction at $150 per square foot - almost double the cost
> per square foot for constructing a new home. At an average price of
> $150,000, the county could buy 17 houses - plenty of room for storage - and
> each county official could have their own office suite with kitchen and
> bath! ;-)) Maybe buy all the houses near the fairgrounds and use them for
> county buildings until such time as resources can be available to expand
> fairground facilities.
> Apparently, leasing has been rejected as too costly. But long-term leasing,
> at about $10.50 per square foot, is an reasonable and effective way to
> provide expansion without the long-term commitment required with the bond
> issue. The infrastructure maintenance is the responsibility of the lessor
> and the county retains some flexibility for the future - when economic
> times might be improved. Also, leasing is likely to enhance the local
> economic condition by keeping dollars flowing to local landlords and the
> local merchants (and occupying vacant buildings) rather than to out of
> state low bid construction firms, investment trusts and distant investors
> (bond principal and interest payments.
> Since much of the needed expansion is the result of new county
> responsibilities - rural development, cooperative extension, expanded law
> enforcement - perhaps the county ought to consider leasing small offices in
> the rural towns - bringing those services to those it is intended to serve.
> Costs of facilities in those areas are much less expensive than in Moscow.
> Critical personnel could schedule hours or days in Potlatch, Troy,
> Genessee, Kendrick etc. Perhaps having law enforcement deputies and rural
> service personnel available in the rural areas would alleviate the
> congestion around the courthouse. This would provide some economic benefit
> across the county! And it might provide improved communication between
> county and city governments.
> Several strategies can be used to deal with storage. Modern imaging
> technology can reduce the space needed for pulp-based records - efficiently
> and effectively. Offsite storage of the pulp-based material provides some
> degree of risk reduction related to fire and other destruction - it becomes
> an additional backup of the critical material stored on computers.
> No, I am not convinced that the courthouse expansion is a wise path to
> pursue. There are a number of alternatives yet to be considered. And there
> are a number of other projects that ought to be considered - Latah Care
> Center remodelling, fairground expansion, road repair and maintenance. And
> of course, by allowing some time to pass, our local economy may indeed
> stabilize.
> So, how do the rest of you weigh in???