Input on court facility taken

County gauges public sentiment about look, site and price tag of project

— Determining the location of new courtrooms is key before questions about size, cost and funding are answered, a roomful of residents concluded Wednesday.

About 50 people filled the county commissioners' hearing room to talk about shortcomings in the failed judicial facility project and brainstorm new solutions to the county's crowded courts.

Their assembly marked the first meeting of the Routt County Judicial Facility Steering Committee.

It also marked the county's second attempt to gauge public sentiment about the look, site and price tag of new courts by drawing upon a group of residents.

The previous steering committee tasked with designing the failed judicial facility project, however, was comprised of county-appointed members.

"We had our ideas of what it was supposed to be, and we kept pushing those ideas," former committee member Pat Holderness said.

No one was barred from the committee Wednesday evening. Everyone who showed up was a member.

"We owe it to the community to have this kind of dialogue," County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said.

County officials are seeking more public input the second time around. They hope to avoid a repeat of last fall, when voters broke their silence on Election Day and denied the proposed $17.2 million judicial facility project.

The community leaders, business owners and other interested residents who attended the meeting had plenty to say.

"There was no opposition," Joe Larusso said. "Nobody fought it. Yet it lost."

County Manager Tom Sullivan outlined results from a December post-election survey of 301 people who voted on the failed court facility project.

The survey revealed the project's size, cost, location, parking structure and proposed 1.3 mill property tax increase weighed heavily in voters' minds.

Location is the focus of the committee's March 5 meeting. The committee will tackle the other elements in future discussions.

Committee members disagreed on many points, but they all agreed on the need for new courts.

"That's why we're here tonight," County Commissioner Doug Monger said. "No matter what project we design, no one's going to be 100 percent satisfied with the project."

While county officials stressed the importance of the committee reaching its own conclusions, they underscored the need for diligence.

Retired 14th Judicial District Judge Richard Doucette ordered the county to find a way to finance and complete a new court facility by mid-2006.

"He (Doucette) definitely was feeling that we had delayed as long as he could allow us to," County Attorney John Merrill said.

The county has filed a notice of intent to appeal the order, Merrill said, but the county cannot ignore Doucette's order while it waits on the appeal's outcome.

An appeal can take six months to a year. Merrill said such a delay could compromise the county's ability to meet its August 2006 deadline.

"We can't afford to ... whether we're right or wrong on the issue," he said.

Committee members acknowledged the challenge of facilitating discussion and finding consensus among so many different voices. But they are optimistic about the end result.

"A process has to stumble and fumble a lot," said Chris Diamond, president of the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp.

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