Judges to hear Meridian, Garden City courthouse proposals

Judges will hear cities' courthouse proposals.

ADA COUNTY -- A years-long battle over courthouse costs will play out in front of a panel of judges on Friday.

Ada County wants Meridian and Garden City to follow a 1994 court order to build their own courts, or pay the county for court services the county is providing at the centralized courthouse in downtown Boise.

MORE: Battle over courthouse costs in Ada County

Meridian, Garden City and Ada County will plead their cases to a panel of district judges at the courthouse on Friday, with both cities coming forward with what they say is the most cost-effective plan. Rather than paying Ada County, Meridian and Garden City mayors will propose a court facility in each city.

However, it's up the judges to decide if that's a good solution.

The cities and the county are fundamentally opposed to one another on the issue. Ada County Commissioner Chairman Jim Tibbs tells KTVB they are not asking the cities to pay them.

"We're asking Meridian and Garden City to obey the law and provide their own magistrate court services."

At the crux of the issue, Meridian Mayor Tammy de Weerd and Garden City Mayor John Evans say: It's about money.

"Circumstances have changed and we don't have a facilities need for magistrate court today, and we did in 1994," Mayor Evans said.

Years ago, voters in Ada County addressed the courthouse need; they decided they wanted the consolidated courthouse on Front Street in Downtown Boise.

"If there's a new issue - and it sounds like its an issue of funding - we think all partners should be at the table to find a county-wide solution," Mayor de Weerd added.

Both mayors say the magistrate court system benefits all county residents, and they're arguing that their citizens will have to pay twice for services they already pay for in county taxes.

That is why they are proposing to build a magistrate court in each city, rather than paying the county for services. Mayor Evans says he will have to raise taxes in Garden City if the judges approve their proposal.

Mayor de Weerd says as an unexpected expense, Meridian will have to cut or delay services.

"We didn't make the decision and whether we agree with it or not, it's an issue between the courts and the two cities," Ada County Commissioner Tibbs said. "They're angry at the wrong people."

Tibbs tells KTVB he agrees that all cities in the county should pay for their case load. Boise is already paying the county about $1 million a year for magistrate services, and if Meridian and Garden City are being ordered to do so, Eagle, Star and Kuna should have the same obligation.

But according to state law, that is up to the judges to decide when and if those cities will have to provide those magistrate services.

"Meridian and Garden City have continued year after year to be in violation of the court order," Tibbs added.

The commissioner says there is a financial need for the cities to start paying the county for technological updates and other expenses.

"The question has never been about capacity," Tibbs said. "It's always been about usage."

State law requires the county to cut Meridian and Garden City rebate checks for distribution costs, which is money the county collects from court fees, forfeitures and fines. The cities say that money goes to law enforcement operations.

Mayor Evans and Mayor de Weerd say they're flying blind on building a new courthouse in each city. They say still haven't been given a straight answer as to why a new facility is needed.

"We have a real concern that there's never been a needs assessment," Evans said. "The district court has the ability to order additional facilities without any sideboards. So they don't have to have a reason."

Meanwhile, the county is asking the cities to start following the court order, and they hope that Friday's hearing will be a big step in resolving this issue for every party involved.

"We're really hopeful that, at a minimum, the court would order a needs assessment," Mayor Evans said.

The cities say money to help with court operations could come from raising user fees through legislation.

The panel of district judges probably won't make a decision on the cities' courthouse proposals tomorrow, but KTVB will continue to follow this issue as it continues to play out in court.

For a more in-depth look at this issue, watch this Viewpoint interview with Commissioner Tibbs, Mayor Evans and Mayor de Weerd.

Copyright 2016 KTVB


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