Franklin County Commissioners asking voters for a second chance to renovate county courthouse

Voters approved a bond to put an addition on to the Franklin County Courthouse. The courthouse is located at 39 West Oneida in Preston.

FRANKLIN COUNTY – Residents in Franklin County, Idaho will once again be asked to approve a bond to expand and renovate the county courthouse, but it’s going to cost more.

County Commissioners passed an ordinance Monday to hold a bond election in May, six months after voters rejected the idea of paying for a courthouse expansion.

The $2.9 million bond voted on by county residents in last year’s November General Election needed 66.6% of the vote to pass. It failed by about 60 votes.

The threshold to pass the bond is the same, but the amount will be increased by $300,000 to $3.2 million.

“The increase is due to an increase in construction costs,” said Commissioner Robert Swainston.

The good news, according to Swainston, is that new home construction in the county has increased. The larger tax base means the cost for residents to repay the bond will actually decrease by a small amount.

Commissioners could have put the issue in front of voters in March, but decided to wait a few extra months in hopes of a higher turnout. They will be forming community committees to canvas areas were voter turnout was weak.

“We do have an idea of where we were strong and weak,” said Commissioner Dirk Bowles. “We can target the communities we didn’t do a very good job getting the message out last time. We will also continue to work with the communities in our counties that passed it, but we will be in those other communities a lot harder than we were. We kind of ignored some, that was our fault.”

If passed, the bond will cover upgrades and improvements to the existing 80-year building located on Oneida Street in Preston. The request for improvements also includes construction of a new courthouse, which commissioners say is necessary in order to resolve some public safety concerns.

“We look forward to addressing those who have reservations and try to let them understand the importance of it in our community,” Bowles said.

Commissioners are also keeping their eyes on a bill making its way through the Idaho Legislature that would impact future bond elections.

House Bill 347 would affect the frequency of local bond issues. The bill would prohibit taxing districts from holding a bond election for 11 months after a failed bond on the same subject.

According to the Associated Press, the House voted 48-21 to send the measure to the Senate. Backers say taxing districts should only get one shot a year at asking voters to approved bonds. They contend that repeatedly bringing back bond votes wears down voters until they finally approve. Opponents say taxing districts typically communicate with voters to find out why a bond failed and make changes before trying again. They contend that taxing districts can fine-tune votes to more accurately align with what voters want. Commissioners in Franklin County didn’t seem too concerned the bill would pass.

“Our legislators…understand that in small communities this is our only way to generate revenue for a bond project like this and they understand that in 11 months the price goes up,” Swainston said.

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