Commissioners decided to leave a tax question regarding a revamped justice center facilities plan off the November ballot in light of coronavirus developments. [FILE]

County commissioners decided to withhold a tax question to voters from the November ballot in light of COVID-19

County commissioners have decided to withhold a tax question to voters regarding a justice center revamp project from the November ballot, due to complications the coronavirus is asserting upon communities.

The facilities master plan project conducted by Otero County commissioners had come a long way since it was first discussed over a year ago.

The Justice Center Steering Committee, that is composed of commissioners, district judges and staff, and other county employees, appeared poised to ask voters in November if they would raise taxes to facilitate the master plan project’s implementation.

The steering committee had indicated by an informal vote at a March 10 public meeting that it favored Option C out of multiple drafted options. The option was a facilities plan that would combine detention, court and probation facilities.

But then came the governor’s social distancing recommendations and orders in light of the swelling COVID-19 pandemic.

By April 1, the date of the next steering committee meeting, county administration were conducting public meetings by teleconference.

“Based on the public health and economic emergency that is having a dramatic impact on our county, cities, communities, businesses and constituents, the Otero County Commissioners have decided that they will not put a sales tax question on the ballot this November,” Economic Development Coordinator Danelle Berg said following the April 1 teleconference. “They will continue to look for alternative ways to meet the needs of detention/law enforcement and courts.

“This decision was met by favorable remarks from Sheriff Mobley and Chief Judge MacDonnell, as well as members of the committee.”

The contracted architector for the project, Reilly Johnson Architects, is still scheduled to provide a final report including drawings and pricing to commissioners within about 30 days, said Berg.

Option 3 of the justice center facilities master plan consists of a massive relocation effort. An information packet provided at the meeting described the design as a "one-stop for detention/law enforcement, courts and probation."

The option would combine detention, court and probation and create a safer environment for staff, the public and inmates, bring the county into compliance with the American Civil Liberties Union, save and create more county jobs, provide more room for mental health and substance abuse treatment programs and reduce the offloading of inmates to other counties.

Option 3 appears to addresses many concerns shared by the sheriff's office, courts and other county departments, but there is a catch: The design option comes with the highest sales tax percentage increases needed to fund the project.

Option 3 was the most costly option, projecting a construction cost totaling $36 million; $14 million for the courthouse and $22 million for law enforcement and detention.

That option was the most popular at the March 10 meeting. It garnered 17 votes total, where the runner-ups received 10 votes for Option 2F, and nine votes for Option 2C.