Teton County voters rejected a $2 million request to plan and design a new courthouse — the only specific purpose excise tax proposition that didn’t pass.
In the final tally, 2,587 voted for the courthouse while 3,451 voted against it.
“I’m a little disappointed,” Teton County Facilities Maintenance Manager Paul Cote said. “I guess we weren’t able to get the message across to people that this was a worthy project. I think it’s also kind of about people not understanding what it encompassed.”
The SPET proposition asked for funding for planning, design, engineering, site preparation and preliminary construction of either a renovated courthouse or a new courthouse.
Built in 1964, the Teton County Courthouse was last renovated in 1997. Cote has been studying the courthouse for years and has identified major shortcomings in its function, security and efficiency.
One of the least efficient government buildings in Jackson, he said, it operates at a 34% on an energy scale of 100.
The building still requires immediate security upgrades. Without SPET funding, Cote said, it’s unclear how to pay for those upgrades.
“Other funding sources will be up to the elected officials,” Cote said Tuesday night. “We will regroup and discuss, and there will have to be a plan going forward.”
The courthouse also requires renovations to withstand earthquakes and comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. When someone in a wheelchair enters the elevator, there is no room to turn around to press a button. Likewise, courtroom jury boxes are not wheelchair-friendly, he said.
Teton County has outgrown the building, which at 30,000 square feet is less than half the size needed, he said.
“This can has been kicked down the road before,” Cote said previously. “But we can’t kick the can forever.”
Federal homeland security grants have been brought up as an alternate money source, but Cote said he can’t apply for any until October 2020.
Cote said voters tend to support projects that affect them personally, so maybe they were turned off by the courthouse. But he hopes residents will realize that this project benefits everyone.
“This is about basic county function,” Cote said. “Courts, law enforcement and dispatch are some of our core functions and some of the county’s most important functions.”
While disappointed, Cote wasn’t all that surprised that voters didn’t support the courthouse plans.
“We figured it was a tough sell and a long shot,” he said. “We gave it our best, and we will deal with it and go forward.”