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Gallatin County voters to decide on new court facility bond

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Gallatin County is asking voters for approval of a $29 million bond to replace the current Law and Justice Center (pictured). PHOTO COURTESY OF GALLATIN COUNTY

Ballots to be sent on Oct. 13

By Bella Butler EBS STAFF

BOZEMAN – Gallatin County is returning to voters for a third time to ask for approval of a bond to fund a new courts facility.

Ballots will be mailed to more-than 75,000 Gallatin County registered active voters on Oct. 13. For Gallatin County voters residing outside a municipality, the ballot will only include the courts facility bond measure. The proposed bond is $29 million and would fund the design, construction and furnishing of a new county courts facility. According to the county, the current Law and Justice Center, originally a 1960s private high school, is structurally compromised and has inadequate space. 

This is the third time a bond request for the new courts facility will reach voters after the county electorate turned down proposals in 2016 and 2019 for $71 million and $59 million bonds respectively. The original measure in 2016 was a joint request with the City of Bozeman, which has since moved forward independently.

“We’ve used every tool available to us to reduce the scope and scale of the project,” said Gallatin County Commissioner Zach Brown. These tools have included using detention center savings and CARES Act dollars to address the sheriff department’s needs and keeping the county attorney in an existing building, according to Brown.

“We’re really in a tight spot,” Brown said. “We’re trying to be responsive to voters by proposing a project that is much less expensive and more simple but still something that the voters would, and the community would be proud of.”

According to the county, the new building would cost property owners $6.70 per year for every $100,000 of the property’s assessed value. For a property with an assessed value of $500,000, this equates to $33.50 per year.

While Brown said the exact cost for building the new facility clocks in at approximately $38 million, $4 million will come from the county’s capital projects fund, and an expected $6 million from the bond premium.

Constructed with cinderblocks, the current building lacks support columns, a fire suppression system as well as certain features like secured separation between parties in conflict with each other.

“In the case of an earthquake, it would likely turn into a big pile of concrete,” Brown said.

The new facility would be adjacent to the current Law and Justice Center and the County Detention Center. Brown said if the new building is approved, the current Law and Justice Center would eventually be demolished and used as parking space for the new building.

The new facility would house four district courts, two justice courts, youth court and probation, clerks of court, the self-help law center, a jury assembly room, a security detail office and a standing master.  

Ballots are due back by no later than 8 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 2. Ballots that arrive after Election Day will not be accepted, regardless of their postmark date. The county elections department recommends that ballots be mailed by Oct. 27 for on-time arrival. Ballots can also be dropped off at the Gallatin County Courthouse, the Belgrade City Clerk’s Office, the Manhattan Town Clerk’s Office, Three Forks City Hall or the West Yellowstone Town Clerk’s Office through Nov. 1, Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. or on Election Day from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. There is no drop-off location in Big Sky.

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