Johnson County Preparing for May 7 Justice Center Vote

By Gregg Hennigan, Reporter

A rendering looking northwest shows a draft design for a proposed criminal justice center in Johnson County. (Neumann Monson Architects)

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By Aaron Hepker

IOWA CITY, Iowa - The Johnson County Board of Supervisors is ready to set a May 7 election date for another vote on a proposed criminal justice center.

The supervisors said Thursday that they would vote next week to officially set the election date and the ballot language. County officials last month indicated they favored the May 7 date, so the move was not a surprise.

The justice center, which would include a new jail and court space, was supported by 56 percent of voters in the November election, but it needed 60 percent to pass.

By law, the county must wait six months to put it on the ballot again. Supervisor Terrence Neuzil said Thursday a county committee studying the issue believes bringing it back so soon made sense because the issue is fresh in the minds of voters, the University of Iowa will be in session, interest rates are at historic lows and inflation would cause the cost of the project to increase with time.

The county has slightly reduced the scope of the project. It will ask voters for a $43.5 million bond issue to pay for a $46.2 million project. In the November election it was a $46.8 million bond and a $48.1 million project.

The cost savings would come by:

Reducing the number of jail beds from 243 to 195. More beds could be added in the future as space is needed. The current jail has 92 beds and is constantly overcrowded.

Building four new courtrooms instead of six, with space to add four more as needed.

Adding more masonry to the exterior of the new building rather than the mostly glass fa├žade that drew some complaints on aesthetic grounds.

Having the county put $2.7 million toward construction costs from its budget, up from $1.3 million.

The only change in the ballot language is the amount of the bond.

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