BOX Vote on bonds decides fate of justice center
By Tim Ruzek
Post-Bulletin, Austin MN
Some officials have pointed to the decision expected early next year on justice-center construction bids as the last big vote.
Although that would be the final stop light in the project’s process, Mower County’s Finance Director Donna Welsh views a vote set for Tuesday as the one to solidify whether the justice center will be built.
"I think this is the deciding factor," she said Friday.
Mower County Board members are slated to consider a resolution approving a financing plan to issue $10 million in bonds as their first loan to help pay for the justice center, which is estimated to cost nearly $36 million.
Northland Securities, a Twin Cities firm hired by the county to handle the justice center’s financing, plans to discuss the proposed bonding at 1 p.m. with the county board.
If county board members approve it, most likely they wouldn’t vote again on accepting a low bid or interest rate for the bonding, Welsh said.
Once a bonding deal is finalized, the county will be locked into an agreement to pay back the $10 million with interest over 20 years, she said.
"There’s no going backwards," Welsh said.
The resolution, if approved, also would provide a major snag to the idea pitched by some for building only a jail if construction bids come in too high in February or March.
Welsh said the problem is that funds from the proposed $10 million bond only could be used for court-related facilities, not for a new jail.
Another bond issuance next year, after the board would approve bids, would cover the jail portion of the project, she said.
County leaders hope to trim the project’s cost to be closer to their $30 million budget cap, which included using $3 million in county funds and bonding or borrowing for the rest.
Mower County Board members, though, have been moving forward with the project since approving a developer’s agreement a year ago for the justice center to be built in downtown Austin rather than on the city’s southeast outskirts.
Plans are to start construction in spring and open the facility by fall 2010.
Two weeks ago, a demolition crew razed the first two buildings on the justice center’s future site. City officials still need to reach acquisition agreements with three property owners in the two-block site.
Mower County also is acquiring property in the block just south of the site. The county bought the Thoroughbred Carpets/George’s Pizza building and expects to close this week on acquiring Robbins Furniture’s two buildings.
Who: Mower County Board.
What: Regular meeting, with vote on issuing a $10 million bond for the proposed justice center.
Where: County board room, lower level of courthouse, 201 First St. N.E., Austin.
When: 1 p.m. Tuesday.