Sharp County's new justice complex is nearing completion and could be open for business in less than two months.
According to JP Marc Goings, the chairman of the building committee, the project is going well. While some last minute details needed to be completed, including furnishing the building and paving a parking lot, he expects the move to be complete by December.
"They're on schedule and may be actually a little ahead," Goings said. "They've really worked hard to get this done for us."
The county has been dealing with limited space for the past several years. The new 4,800-square-foot building is expected to alleviate some cramped corners and give county employees a little bit of breathing room.
The complex, located adjacent to the courthouse and the sheriff's department, will supply offices for the sheriff, chief deputy and investigators. It will also include offices for the deputy prosecuting attorney and the circuit judge in the third circuit court of the 3rd Judicial District. It will include a second courtroom, a jury room, an interview room, a deputies' room and a secure area into which deputies can drive to deliver prisoners, connected to the sheriff's department. The complex, which will connect to the courthouse by a corridor through the current 9-1-1 Central Dispatch office, will include handicap-accessible restrooms. There are none in the existing building. Before the building is completed, it will also include a sidewalk with a covered canopy linking the jury room to the existing courtroom.
Sharp County Judge Harold Crawford has said four judges currently use the courthouse and its lone courtroom. As many as three judges at a time hold court. With one judge in the courtroom, another is holding court in a vault behind the clerk's office while a third judge is holding court wherever he can find space. He called the situation "embarrassing."
"I don't think people really understand why we needed this complex," Goings said. "Our courts were overlapping some and we had to conduct court in the hallway outside the courtroom. We had a lot of problems with space, and this building will alleviate some of that."
Sheriff Dale Weaver said the county has been written up repeatedly by state jail standards inspectors for inadequate space. While constructing the new building may not help provide more inmate space, it does address one of the jail standards issues -- lack of administrative offices.
Goings said the building could actually save the county additional money because the county will no longer have to pay rent for space for Judge Kevin King's office and an office for the deputy prosecuting attorney.
The county quorum court awarded the bid to Capital Construction of Ash Flat for $229,000 May 13 with construction beginning in June. The bid was the lowest of the four received with the second lowest price estimated at $260,000 from a company in Cave City.
"For that much space, it's really a bargain for the county," Goings said. "We had a limit and we were close, but luckily we got the cost under it."
Goings said the building wasn't a want but a need for the entire county. With the federal government contributing $60,000, the quorum court temporarily increased the county millage 1.95 mills in December 2002 to pay for the remainder of the complex over a period of approximately five years. The increase puts Sharp County at the maximum millage rate of 5 mills. The court pledged to drop the millage increase after one year if voters approved a half-cent sales tax.; however, the amount of the proposed tax has since been reduced to a 1/8-cent tax which will be on the November ballot. If the voters are in favor of the tax, the millage rate will roll back to 3.05 mills.
"We really didn't have a choice on what to do," Goings said. "We just didn't have enough space. We had all these issues facing us and we had to do something about it.
"When we raised the millage, the justices wanted to give the voters the opportunity to tell us how to pay for it -- either through the millage or a sales tax," he said.
According to JP Darrell Kehrli, chairman of the county's tax committee, of the anticipated $178,650 a year the tax would generate, 100 percent would go to the county's general fund. Of that money, the county can use the money for maintenance and capital improvements.
With the complex connecting the the courthouse, it is the first addition to the existing courthouse since it was constructed in the mid 1960s creating a central location of county government midway between the two former courthouses located in Hardy and Evening Shade, both constructed before bridges were built over the Spring and Strawberry rivers.
"It's been a long time," Goings said. "It was time we expanded. We needed some more room."