New center will impact courthouse finances

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By Molly Haines

While plans continue to move forward on the new Owen County Judicial Center, Owen County Judge-Executive Carolyn Keith has some financial concerns connected to the existing courthouse.

Groundbreaking on the new judicial center is expected to take place in early March of 2010. The new building will take 18 months to two years to complete.

The judicial center will be built on five acres on South Main Street across from the fire station.

Keith said many people do not realize that the center is strictly for courts only.

“The circuit clerk’s office will be located at the new judicial center but all other county offices, including the judge-executive’s, will remain at their current locations,” Keith said. “I think there has been some confusion over that aspect but the judicial center will be for courts only.”

Keith said while the judicial center has many upsides but there are some downsides as well.

“I see it as a two-edged sword,” Keith said. “We are out of space here at the courthouse. We have documents that are in the basement that should not be there. The space will be great but from a financial standpoint, I have some concerns.”

Keith said the center will not directly cost local taxpayers any additional money.

“The money for the building is coming from bonds that the Administrative Office of the Courts will pay back over 30 years,” Keith said. “But AOC is currently renting 68 percent of the courthouse and, in turn, they pay us $71,000 for maintenance and cleaning. That $71,000 contributes to repairs and that’s a big concern for me. How are we going to continue maintaining the courthouse without that $71,000?”

Keith said AOC will make monthly payments and at the end of the 30-year period, the judicial center will be paid off.

“It’s both a good and bad thing,” Keith said. “Parking will be great the judicial center with at least 150-160 parking spots for the public. There will also be a large number of handicapped spots.”

The judicial center, which will have a total of 32,565 square feet, will have circuit court and district court located on the first floor along with offices for the judges and a full-time bailiff.

Keith said the judicial center will be more secure than the courthouse.

“There will be a security area for the judges and circuit clerk to park in,” Keith said. “There will only be one entrance that the public will be allowed to use and personnel will have cards they’ll have to swipe to unlock various doors throughout the building.”

Keith said 75 counties across the state have or will have new judicial centers.