Justice center to be transferred to state

The Hardin County Justice Center, owned by the city of Elizabethtown but paid for by the Administrative Office of Courts, soon will become property of the Administrative Office of the Courts.

It’s an expensive game of not it for a building Elizabethtown and Hardin County governments don’t want.

Opened in 1997 and now fully paid for, ownership of the Hardin County Justice Center will be transferred to the Administrative Office of the Courts after approval Monday of a municipal order by Elizabethtown City Council.

“We tried every way that we could think of to make this work that we could continue to manage that courthouse and lease it back to (Administrative Office of the Courts),” he said. “It just wasn’t going to be in the best interest of the city of Elizabethtown.”

According to the order and information shared by Elizabethtown Mayor Jeff Gregory during council’s Monday meeting, it is standard practice for local governments, primarily county governments, to build and own buildings that house the state’s judicial operations in that jurisdiction.

What’s unusual about the Hardin County Justice Center is the city owned it and, even more unusual, it will be the first building transferred to the Administrative Office of the Courts.

Gregory said Monday the decision made financial sense for the city.

“The courthouse is now 25-plus years old,” he said. “It’s got several issues. The largest being that there’s 62 air conditioners in that building and to replace those air conditioners would be about $5 million roughly.”

According to Gregory, the deed said when the bond ran out, the justice center was to be transferred to Hardin County government. In November, Hardin Fiscal Court adopted a resolution declining ownership.

It wasn’t a good financial move, Hardin County Judge-Executive Harry Berry said.

“The county has no desire for that building no more, than apparently, the city does,” he said. “That building is old now, in need of a lot of repair. There’s a lot of maintenance just to keep up with the building.”

Comparing it to how jails are run by the county, but partially paid for by the state, Berry said although the state would lease the building, the probability of the return on investment being diminished was high.

“Their leases, the amount of money they pay, isn’t going to keep up with maintenance, cleaning, much less the administrative burden of coordinating all that,” he said. “You’re being a landlord in a losing proposition. So there’s no reason for us to want to take the building.”

The move by county government is nothing more than returning the responsibility of the building’s maintenance and operations back to the rightful owners, Berry said.

“The justice system is a state process, it’s not a county process,” he said. “Our view is the state needs to take care of the state’s business and the county will take care of the county’s business.”

Gregory and Berry said in the 1994, when it was decided a new county justice center was to be built to replace the H.B. Fife Courthouse, county government’s bond capacity was stretched thin with newly bonded projects for a new jail and the Pearl Hollow landfill.

At the time, Gregory said then-Mayor Pat Durbin requested the justice center to remain in downtown Elizabethtown.

Durbin and then-Hardin County Judge-Executive Glenn Dalton worked a deal that Elizabethtown would use its bond rating to build the courthouse to keep the courthouse in the center of the city, Gregory said.

“It worked out well for the county to use the city’s bond rating,” he said. “It was also something that pleased Mayor Durbin because the courthouse was going to stay in downtown Elizabethtown for the health of downtown.”

While the city owned the building, Gregory said the Administrative Office of the Courts has paid every bill, including for maintenance and staffing, for duration of the bond.

“The city of Elizabethtown per se was not any money for the entire 25 years,” he said.

Gregory said the city decided it was in its taxpayers’ interest to let the building go.

“That’s kind of how we got to where we are,” he said. “I’m not in any way scrutinizing or casting judgment on the county or the state or anybody else. It’s just for the city of Elizabethtown, we felt this was in our best interest.”

Elizabethtown City Council will next meet at 4:30 p.m. July 11.

IN OTHER BUSINESS

In a slew of municipal orders, city council

• Accepted bids from BC Concrete for installation services for sidewalk work throughout the city, Reynolds Sealing & Striping for pavement striping for next fiscal year and Scotty’s Contracting and Stone for pavement milling for next fiscal year.

• Approved a contract with Engineering Design Group for sanitary sewer and natural gas design work for St. John Road.¬

• Reappointed Jacob Vittitow to the Code Enforement Board for a term expiring July 7, 2025.

• Denied a zoning change for property at 1670 N. Miles St.

Gina Clear can be reached at 270-505-1418 or gclear@thenewsenterprise.com.

Gina Clear can be reached at 270-505-1418 or gclear@thenewsenterprise.com.

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