The steering committee met Tuesday to discuss plans for either a new justice center in La Junta or a remodel of the current courthouse.

“So, this steering committee is really valuable to the board of commissioners as well as to the judicial district,” Danelle Berg said.

She said the committee will give a recommendation to the county commissioners on what to do and include more members of the public so that they can better market what they decide to put on the ballot for 2020.

“As you know if you watched the election this last time, there were three detention centers across this state that ballot issues were voted down, 2-1,” she said.

The goal of the committee is to figure out a plan that fits the county's budget and falls in line with what the community would like to see from a justice center. The funding portion potentially could come from the sales tax according to Berg.

This would be done by asking voters for an additional 1 cent sales tax to the sales tax currently in place. An example given by Berg was that for every $10 spent by someone in Otero County, the county would receive 10 cents. If the additional tax was passed, it would mean for every $10 spent they would receive 20 cents, with 10 cents going to the general fund and 10 going toward paying off the bond for the justice center project.

The revenue Otero County receives from sales tax for 2019 is projected to be $1.874 million, and in 2018 it made $1.66 million. Berg used these data points as well as past totals of sales tax revenues dating back to 2009 to give an conservative estimate of $1.6 million a year of sales tax revenue to go toward paying for the justice center.

As for the costs of the projects themselves, Bob Johnson of Reilly Johnson Architecture said that the difference in the cost between the two projects would be close to $5 million. Johnson said that there are two cost model with the model for a new center potentially costing $38 million plus or minus a quarter million. The second model, which is the remodeling option, would be $33 and a quarter million.

“Those two projects are $5 million apart and I think the question here tonight is, could we get those close enough?” Johnson said.

He said there are a lot of little things that they can do to close the gap between the costs of both projects. One example he gave was saving $5 million by remodeling the west wing of the courthouse instead of the whole thing.

“There are a lot of pieces in between $33 million and $38 million that we could talk about tonight, but I think if we talk about them ... and we could do it clearly enough that I think most people would walk away from the room saying ‘We’re so close; why are we remodeling?’,” he said.

There was no decision made by the committee Tuesday on which plan they would like to move forward with. There remain plenty more steps and hurdles that the committee will have to navigate through before they hit their deadline of March to make their recommendation to the county commissioners.

The next steering committee meeting is scheduled to start at 5:30 p.m. Dec.18 at the Otero County Courthouse.

jconlan@ljtdmail.com