Johnson County Preparing for Justice Center Vote

By Gregg Hennigan, Reporter

A rendering looking northwest shows a draft design for a proposed criminal justice center in Johnson County. The facility would include a new jail and court space, built behind the existing courthouse. The county is expected place a bond issue on the November ballot to pay for the center. (Neumann Monson Architects)

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By Kara Kelly

IOWA CITY, Iowa –Johnson County is ready to begin work writing the ballot language voters will see at the polls when deciding whether to approve funding for a criminal justice center.

The Board of Supervisors, at a work session Thursday, said a county committee will develop a draft of the language explaining the project. The supervisors would have to vote on the measure.

The current design calls for a five-level, 153,800-square-foot building constructed behind the county courthouse at 417 S. Clinton Street in Iowa City.

It would include 243 jail beds, the Sheriff’s Office headquarters, six new courtrooms and other space for court-related functions. The courthouse would continue to be used.

The justice center is estimated to cost $48.1 million and is intended to resolve space and security issues at the current jail and courthouse.

The supervisors have informally agreed to put a $46.8 million bond referendum on the November election ballot to pay for the facility. The rest of the cost would come out of the county’s budget.

The supervisors want to have the ballot language done in May. County Treasurer Tom Kriz told the supervisors that, after speaking with the county’s bond counsel, it should be as precise and concise as possible.

The amount of the bonds to be issued and the purpose for seeking the money must be included. The county also can add other language to further describe the project.

The county would be bound by anything in the ballot language, Kriz said.

The supervisors said they wanted the language to be brief, so people read it, while at the same time providing enough information for voters to know what the project is.

“My main message would be to keep it simple and straightforward,” Supervisor Sally Stutsman said.

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