Voters to decide judicial complex needs

Lance Pyle

The Curry County Commission voted Aug. 9 to put two critical issues on the November ballot, both related to the safety of Curry County residents.

First, voters will decide whether to issue up to $16.5 million in general obligation bonds for the design and construction of a courthouse addition.

The second question will ask voters whether one-quarter of 1 percent should be made to the county’s gross receipts tax, designated for the design and construction of a detention center renovation and expansion.

I want to clarify several points on these upcoming ballot questions.

Proposed as a consolidated Curry County Criminal Justice Complex, several phases of construction have been given thought in order to master-plan for the county’s potential long-term needs. However, only the first phase will be on this ballot, allowing voters to have separate votes for the courthouse construction and for the renovation and additional construction of the jail.

With approval of both current questions, $33 million will satisfy current needs, but does not obligate voters to other long-term phases. If the additional phases are needed years from now, they would be placed before voters for approval at that time.

If voters approve Question 1, an addition would be built for New Mexico’s 9th Judicial District Court. Currently, the historic courthouse lacks industry-standard security for the public, jurors, judges, witnesses and staff. In-custody prisoners cannot be separated from the public and judges.

The addition would also include handicap accessibility and comply with current building codes — both of which the current facility does not meet, putting the county at risk of liability and potential litigation.

The existing 1936 building’s size and configuration will not accommodate the consolidation of the four current district courtrooms, or the implementation of proper security measures.

Several incidents have already happened in which weapons have been brought into the courthouse, posing substantial safety issues.

The courthouse addition will resolve accessibility, safety, and security deficiencies.

Your county commissioners, seeking to determine cost-effective solutions, asked Rohde May Keller-McNamara Architecture P.C. and Reilly Johnson Architecture to assess the county’s existing facilities, determine long-term needs, and recommend viable master-plan concepts.

Part of the assessment was to determine if the current courthouse could be renovated to address the shortfalls.

The firms determined it was not possible to make those improvements, due to the historic nature of the building.

The results of their collaborative effort were presented and a phased master-plan concept was approved June 22.

The second question on the November ballot would add a 25-cent tax increase on a $100 purchase and generate approximately $16.5 million for the remodel of the jail’s existing male detention center and the juvenile detention facility, as well as construction of an additional 120-bed detention center expansion to include medium- and maximum-security pods.

In addition, a tunnel is planned that will connect to the new courthouse addition for prisoner transport. Currently, prisoners must cross the street and enter the courthouse through the same doors as the public, judges and jury members.

While other phases of the jail have been master-planned for potential future needs, the county would not be obligated to move forward on those.

Public meetings will be held the next two months, providing more information about these two important ballot questions.

In addition, information can be found at:

http://vote.currycounty.org

I encourage all registered voters to learn more about them and contact me with any questions.