A resolution adopting the overall new judicial center for Sumner County, including a new courthouse, parking garage and jail expansion, was approved by the Sumner County Commission in a 20-4 vote Monday.
County leaders also approved a total of $10.2 million in additional funding for the project during the meeting. However, additional votes will still be required in order to fully fund the project, which is estimated to cost $91 million in total.
“We’re talking about a (new courthouse) that is going to serve the public for up to 80 years,” Sumner County Mayor Anthony Holt said about the project. “Our current courthouse was built in 1939. It’s a wreck. It’s falling apart.
“The judges, just like the public, cannot keep using that facility because it’s not only inadequate; it’s becoming a maintenance issue.”
The estimated cost for the overall judicial system project includes $78.4 million for a new courthouse in downtown Gallatin as well as $9.4 million for a parking garage behind the Gallatin Public Library and $5 million to increase the jail’s capacity by 128 beds.
District 11 Commissioner Jeremy Mansfield said he did not support the project since it contributed to a recent 17 percent county property tax incase earlier this year.
“We’re not taking into consideration a lot of the things that are happening in the county that are beyond our control,” Mansfield said citing the future need to build additional schools to handle the county’s growing population. “Had we not rushed this forward, we could have waited four years and done it without a tax increase.
“I’m just thinking about the citizens of the county as well and the people who don’t benefit from this.”
In August, county leaders approved a 34-cent property tax increase of which 4 cents was tied to helping pay for the judicial system project.
According to District 9 Commissioner Chris Taylor, who also serves as chairman of the county’s budget committee, the decision to include the funding in the property tax increase was done in order to “move up the timeline” of construction of the jail pods to address overcrowding as well as build the parking garage sooner so Gallatin city leaders would agree to partner in the project.
Sumner County leaders voted to hire Justice Planning Associates (JPA) in 2017 to review the county’s criminal justice and court system facilities following several emergency funding requests for building repair projects.
As part of its study, the firm evaluated and rated each location. The court facilities received the lowest rankings of inappropriate or inadequate, according to the final report presented to the county commission in May 2018. No building received the highest rating of adequate or appropriate.
“It’s essentially such a fragmented system that it is not functioning effectively,” JPA President Mike Thomas said Monday. “This is something we’ve seen across the country when facilities are as fragmented as they are in this county.”
According to an estimated timeline for the project, the parking garage would open around June of 2021 followed by the new courthouse in late 2022 or early 2023.
Work could then begin on the anticipated second phase of the project, which would include renovation of the existing courthouse in downtown Gallatin as well as an expansion of the sheriff’s office. The total estimated cost would be at least $20 million, according to Thomas.