County voters likely to eye bond issue in April for new family court building

Staff report

The County Council is moving forward with a plan to ask voters next April to approve a $100 million bond issue to build a new family court building and to make improvements to the circuit courts building in Clayton.

Council members voted 7-0 on Sept. 20 to adopt a resolution that states the council will call for a public vote next April to authorize the issuance of general obligation bonds to fund the projects.

In 2008, County Executive Charlie Dooley established the Blue Ribbon Commission — a group of regional business, political and civic leaders — to develop solutions for county government’s aging buildings, parks and roads.

The council’s resolution states the commission “unanimously determined that the existing family court building at 501 S. Brentwood (Blvd.) is no longer adequate for the provision of judicial services to the juvenile residents, families, witnesses, county personnel and other participants in the family court; and the current court facility has deteriorated to the point that it needs significant system repairs and/or renovations to meet space, utility and program requirements for current and future needs …”

The family court building has such issues as asbestos, outdated electrical and HVAC equipment and a security checkpoint that can’t swiftly check people through the entrance, according to the resolution.

Besides infrastructure problems, the family court building “lacks desirable separation between victims and alleged perpetrators; counseling services are provided in converted detention cells; the detention center, which houses juveniles requiring secure custody arrangements, lacks cell locks and sturdy door frames that can withstand regular abuse; lacks functional locking mechanisms; and living units are improperly aligned for optimal supervision …,” the resolution states.

A new facility would make economic sense because maintenance and repair costs would be reduced, according to the resolution.

In November 2008, a $120 million bond issue for a new family court building and renovations to the existing circuit court building failed at the polls as it did not receive the required four-sevenths majority, or 57.15 percent of the vote.

Proposition I received 252,226 “yes” votes — 50.78 percent — and 244,131 “no” votes.

Sixth District council Chairman Steve Stenger, D-south county, said the annual cost to maintain the existing court buildings is in the seven-figure range.

Stenger contended funding for the proposed projects would be cheaper to obtain now than in the past.

Compared to the roughly 5-percent interest rate on the its current bonds, the county anticipates a rate of 2.75 percent on the new bonds, Stenger said.

He noted the issue would not require a tax-rate increase, and the bonds would carry a 20-year term.

Stenger and council Vice Chairman Mike O’Mara, D-Florissant, sponsored the resolution. The council will have to approve an ordinance in the coming months to place the bond issue on the April ballot.