A proposed 10-year quarter cent sales tax on the Nov. 8 ballot, if approved, would build a new county courthouse and coroner’s facility. It would sunset in 10 years.
The proposal to build a new $182 million courthouse and a $22.5 coroner’s building was approved last Spring with a 5-2 vote. Commissioner’s John Toplikar and Michael Ashcraft opposed.
The current courthouse was built in 1951 with additions in 1954, 1968 and 1975; if approved, the new court house would be about 283,000 square feet and have 28 courtrooms. The construction process would take about four years. Cost would include demolition of the current courthouse and work on a courtyard to replace it. The county has the existing courthouse building insured for $56 million, not including contents.
If voters approve the quarter cent sales tax, it would raise about $30 million a year. State statute requires the revenue be shared with cities, so about $10 million of that per year would be distributed to the cities on a formula basis. Gardner would receive about $4.8 million, Spring Hill $982,000 and Edgerton $713,000, according to the county website. There is no statutory requirement on how the cities allocate the additional revenue.
Although officials say a new courthouse would resolve handicapped accessibility problems encountered within the existing building, parking availability will be determined if the tax passes.
There are 1,675 parking spaces within a 1,200 foot radius of the proposed courthouse and in total there are 2,000 parking spaces within a 1,600 foot radius of the planned courthouse. Despite the addition of three new courtrooms, county staff anticipates the same amount of people will come to downtown Olathe.  A minimum of 50 parking spaces are included in the project scope.
The new courthouse will be constructed north of the existing courthouse on Santa Fe and Cherry Street. Total price for both projects is approximately $201 million. The current courthouse would be demolished, and the current site used as green space.
Plans for a pedestrian crossing at Santa Fe and Kansas have yet to be determined.
If the sales tax is approved, the county would also construct a $19 million coroner’s facility at 119th and Ridgeview in Olathe.
Currently coroner duties are performed in Wyandotte County in space rented from a private party, and the annual county corner’s budget is about $600,000.
The county currently does about 305 autopsies annually and does not have a backlog of autopsies. Timing is allocated to fit the schedule of the commercial autopsy facility.
According to the county’s website:the original courthouse structure still in use is now 64 years old, and it’s in a state of considerable disrepair.
Some of the most significant problems with the current courthouse are:
1. Aging infrastructure, which includes problems like cracked and crumbling interior and exterior walls and corroded and cracked pipes; all extremely expensive and these repairs have been delayed to prevent further spending if a decision is made to proceed with a new courthouse;
2. Safety and security, which includes inmates using the same hallways as jurors, victims and witnesses, and the building being too close to the street;
3. Accessibility issues such as no wheelchair access to the jury boxes and limited accessibility for wheelchairs throughout the building;
4. Outdated technology, which among other concerns can make showing evidence to jurors more difficult during a trial; and
5. Inadequate courtroom and meeting space, which leads to crowded courtrooms and hallways and little to no space for attorney-client meetings, often forcing private conversations to occur in public hallways.
According to jocoelection.org. the question as it will appear on the ballot is:
Johnson County Question –
Shall the following be adopted?
Shall the Board of County Commissioners of Johnson County, Kansas, for public safety projects, adopt and impose an additional one-fourth (1/4) of one-cent countywide retailers’ sales tax in Johnson County, Kansas, to be levied from and after April 1, 2017, for a period of ten (10) years, ending on March 31, 2027, with the revenue from that tax to be distributed as required by law to the county and to the cities in Johnson County, and the county share to be used to fund the costs of construction and operation of public safety projects, including the construction, equipping, and furnishing of a courthouse building and a coroner facility, together with the costs to demolish the existing courthouse, and for the costs of programs and facilities related to those projects, including the courts, administration of justice, and District Attorney?