Johnson County voters approved a quarter-cent sales tax increase to pay for a new courthouse and coroner’s office, according to unofficial final results released Wednesday afternoon.
With all precincts reporting, the measure passed nearly 53 percent to 47 percent.
The result would create a new revenue stream for a $182 million courthouse that county officials had coveted for more than a decade but never had a means to fund. The sales tax increase would last for 10 years.
A majority of the county’s elected leaders and Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe had maintained that the current courthouse in downtown Olathe had passed its point of obsolescence. No organized group mounted an opposition campaign.
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Beyond the courthouse’s age — it was built in 1952 and expanded three times by 1975 — sales tax proponents said the building’s layout raised public safety and security concerns. They pointed to the inability to transport prison inmates through separate corridors, prompting concerns about encounters with victims and jurors. Merely renovating the structure, the pro-sales tax campaign said, would not solve the problem.
Johnson County has contracted with Frontier Forensics Midwest in Kansas City, Kan., to carry out its autopsies. With Tuesday’s result in hand, the county plans to build a $20 million coroner’s office to do autopsies and toxicology tests.
The new courthouse will be built one block north of its current location, directly west of City Hall.
Olathe will donate its former City Hall building, plus other city-owned property, to make way for the new courthouse site.
The cities in Johnson County will also catch a windfall from the sales tax increase. By Kansas law, 37 percent of a county’s sales tax increase goes to the cities. And unlike the county, the cities can use the new sales tax stream for whatever they wish.
Most cities have not formally made a decision on how they plan to spend the money.
Overland Park, as the county’s largest city, stands to make $42.7 million over 10 years
Tim Danneberg, city spokesman for Olathe, said the city would use the $33 million it will realize over 10 years on one-time capital expenses.
Michelle Distler, mayor of Shawnee, echoed that sentiment. She said the Shawnee City Council hasn’t decided what, precisely, it will fund with the $16.4 million in new sales tax revenue but that it would pay for capital expenses not currently funded in the city’s budget.
Construction of the new courthouse will take about four years.
The outcome of that issue and the rest of Tuesday’s election was unclear Wednesday morning after Johnson County election results were delayed because of an onslaught of paper ballots received by mail in the past two days, the county election commissioner said late Tuesday.
In two contested Johnson County commission races, challenger Mike Brown upset incumbent John Toplikar, and incumbent Steve Klika held off challenger Benjamin Hodge.
Toplikar had 48 percent of the vote, while Brown had 51 percent. The winner represents the southwest corner of the county, which includes unincorporated areas, Gardner Edgerton and part of Olathe.
Meanwhile, Klika had nearly 57 percent of the vote, while Hodge had nearly 43 percent. The winner represents the southeastern corner of the county, which includes southern Overland Park and Stilwell.
In the race for the District 2 seat on the Kansas Board of Education, incumbent Steve Roberts defeated challenger Chris Cindric. Cindric had garnered 48.4 percent of the vote, while Roberts had 51.5 percent.