Johnson County voters approved a plan to raise the sales tax 1/4 cent to fund construction of a new courthouse and coroner’s laboratory Tuesday.
The measure to replace the old courthouse in Olathe with a nine-story facility was approved with 53 percent of the voters in favor of the measure, according to the unofficial final vote. The plan also calls for construction of a $19 million coroner’s laboratory at 119th Street and Ridgeview.
County Commission Chairman Ed Eilert, co-chair of the “Vote Yes for Public Safety” campaign believed the fact it would cost more to renovate the existing courthouse built in 1952 than build a new facility helped persuade voters.
“It’s been a matter of discussion for many years,” Eilert said. “We reached a point where the numbers hit a point that showed it made a difference. Renovation would cost even higher and you would still have a building that was 70- to 80 years old.
“When you got a situation where you can demonstrate that kind of situation, that helps.”
The cost of a new courthouse was estimated at $182 million, while renovating the existing facility would cost about $216 million.
The 1/4 cent increase in the sales tax is expected to yield about $30 million annually. Under state law, $10 million must be shared with cities, leaving $20 million for paying for the facilities. The sales tax hike will expire in 10 years.
The new courthouse will have 28 courtroom versus 10 courtrooms in the existing building. It is planned to be built west of Olathe City Hall and should be completed in four years.
Officials have said the existing facility was built when Johnson County had 60,000 residents. It now has 580,000 and that population is expected to double in 50 years. The old building also fell short of ADA access standards for the disabled.
Johnson County currently does not have its own coroner’s facility and contracts with Wyandotte County for that service.
Eilert also praised District Attorney Steve Howe, who was co-chair of the campaign.
“We made 75 presentations together and individually, and he was an important part of telling the story about the condition of the courthouse,” Eilert said.