Gallatin County Courts Installation Reaches Voters This Fall – Explore Big Sky
GALLATIN MEDIA CENTER
BOZEMAN – This fall, voters in Gallatin County will decide on a bond to build a safer and more efficient court that will serve all citizens of Gallatin County. The Gallatin County Commission voted unanimously today to put a $ 29 million bond on the November general election ballot.
The bond will be used to replace the current Law and Justice Center, located in Bozeman, with a new 57,000 square foot single-story building that will house the following:
- District Courts (including an additional courtroom and space for the Fourth Judge of the Gallatin County District Court)
- Courts of justice
- Youth court
- Standing master
- District court clerk
- Self-service legal aid center
- Public community hall
The property taxes on a home with an estimated market value of $ 500,000 would increase by $ 33.50 per year. However, that amount would decrease each year as more and more property taxpayers settle in our rapidly growing county.
Gallatin County Commission Chairman Scott MacFarlane said: “A new court is the only cost-effective solution to Gallatin County’s short- and long-term needs for safe and efficient courts.
MacFarlane called the proposal a responsible solution to the problems facing the current courts, problems that have plagued taxpayers for two decades and which will persist as Gallatin County continues to grow.
“This is our most responsible and best project to meet the needs of the courts,” said MacFarlane.
Commissioner Joe Skinner noted that voters had rejected two previous proposals to replace the building, but said the county had listened to voters and found unique and creative ways to cut costs on the project while meeting the needs of the courts.
“I really think we got it right this time around,” Skinner said. “It’s the right project at the right time. I’m glad I can put that on the ballot.
Commissioner Zach Brown said the project is “fundamentally a need, it’s not a need,” noting that the county must find space to house a fourth district court judge recently funded by the Montana legislature.
“Our justice system is a constitutionally protected and mandated service. It is fundamental to the functioning of our economy and our democracy, ”said Brown. “I am really looking forward to having a solid conversation with taxpayers on this project by November. “
When a replacement building was offered in 2019, the price was $ 60 million. Using value engineering, strategic design and a smaller footprint, the new construction plan will reduce the cost to $ 38 million. But taxpayers will pay less. County Gallatin has saved for this project and will cover about 25 percent of the construction at no additional cost to taxpayers. And the county was able to purchase a new facility for Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office operations, making that proposal even smaller. In fact, the total bond, that is, the cost to taxpayers, has been reduced to $ 29 million.
The current Center for Law and Justice was built in 1961 as a Catholic high school and was later redeveloped into a law enforcement and court facility. The structural integrity of the building is compromised and a fire suppression system is missing. This puts at risk the thousands of citizens who use the building every month – from those who serve our community who work there daily, to those who serve as civic jurors, marry, get adoptions, seek protection orders and those who settle disputes that change their lives.
There is also a lack of space in the current building. There aren’t enough courtrooms – which the county is constitutionally mandated to provide for our state-allocated judges – or administrative space to handle current workloads. The 2021 Montana legislature has approved funding for a fourth district court judge, expected to arrive as early as January 2022, and the county must provide space for that judge and his staff.
This current lack of space means that civil court cases can see arbitration wait times stretching for years, to the detriment of businesses in our region.
It also means extended wait times for criminal trials, meaning defendants spend more time in jail or on pre-trial supervision, both of which are expenses passed on to taxpayers.
And for victims involved in criminal trials who seek justice so they can move forward with their lives, their day in court becomes far too distant on the horizon.
In addition to the human cost of an inefficient and dangerous justice center, construction costs in County Gallatin are increasing by about 10% year over year. This same project proposed in the future is likely to cost much more.
Ballots for the 2021 general election will be mailed out on October 13. They must be returned no later than 8 p.m. on polling day – Tuesday, November 2, 2021.
More information on the deposit will be available at galatin.mt.gov. And more information on the November elections and how to register to vote can be found at gallatinvotes.com.