On July 23, the Polk County Board of Supervisors took action to set a referendum date, which will be part of the existing municipal election scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 5. The question that will appear before the voters asks, "Should Polk County be authorized to issue its General Obligation Bonds in an amount not to exceed $81 million (to be borrowed in phases) for the purpose of paying costs of improving public safety in, remodeling, reconstructing, historically rehabilitating, furnishing and equipping the buildings of the Polk County Judicial System, including the historic courthouse, the Criminal Court Annex (former Main Jail), and the Polk County Justice Center Annex (former J.C. Penney/Wellmark Building)?"

The total project cost is estimated at $89,160,000, which includes the aforementioned improvements, the costs of issuing the bonds, acquisition costs and expansion and renovation of the county attorney’s office space within the Polk County Justice Center Annex.

Polk County’s courthouse was originally built in 1906 with four courtrooms. Today, there are 28. There are nearly 500,000 visitors to Polk County Court facilities on an annual basis – vastly more than when the building was built over 100 years ago. The courthouse was not adequately designed for current security and safety needs. Additionally, Polk County is storing vital evidence used to aid in the prosecution of sexual predators and murderers in areas that are outdated and spread throughout the county.

On April 29, 2008, a referendum to construct additional court space was unsuccessful. The plan included the full use and renovation of the historic courthouse and construction of a new court facility on county-owned land immediately south of the present courthouse site at a 2009 construction cost, not to exceed $127 million.

"We have studied this issue since 2006, have looked at multiple plans, listened to the public’s concerns from the failed referendum in 2008, and believe this plan is the most reasonable and cost-effective approach to alleviate the public safety, security, space and renovation needs of our courts," stated project team members Supervisors Tom Hockensmith and Angela Connolly.

For additional information regarding this issue, go to Quick Links, Courts Space Issue, at www.polkcountyiowa.gov.