Joco Opinion

Editorial: Right move on new courthouse

The Editorial Board

Elected officials are discussing tearing down an old public facility and replacing it with something new.

This time, though, we’re not talking about the long-running controversy over the future of Kansas City International Airport.

Instead, the Johnson County Commission has made solid progress — after years of debate and foot-dragging — on a needed plan to replace the current courthouse in Olathe.

Late last month the commission voted 5-2 to support putting together a plan to pay for the project, now estimated to cost $182 million.

The elected officials want the county staff to come back with a recommended tax increase proposal by April; a public vote could be held in November.

Like KCI, the courthouse built in 1951 has its supporters. Commissioners John Toplikar and Michael Ashcraft said they wanted to keep pouring good money after bad in trying to keep the building up to speed as it serves Johnson Countians.

Fortunately, Commission Chairman Ed Eilert — long known for his fiscally prudent views — pushed for the new courthouse along with others on the panel.

“I would feel extremely uncomfortable investing another $100 million to $200 million of the public’s money in a 60- to 70-year old facility that would soon be an 80-, 90-, 100-year old facility,” Eilert said.

County officials point out that the old building lacks wheelchair access and modern technology in many courtrooms.

The structure is energy inefficient, which wastes public dollars. And it has security concerns when it comes to mixing inmates and the public, which endangers safety.

Soon, the commissioners will have to determine whether they want to pay for the new courthouse through a sales tax increase or a higher property tax. Then voters will make the final decision.