County proceeds with ballot measure

Voters may be deciding whether to increase Ward County’s construction indebtedness early next year.

Voters already have approved indebtedness of $39.3 million for a new county office building, jail expansion, Courthouse renovation and highway improvements. Now, commissioners have concluded that amount won’t be enough.

The Ward County Commission wants to get a measure for more indebtedness on the ballot as soon as possible, which appears like it will be February, or possibly late January. Commissioners voted to pursue an election at that time using the county’s electronic voting equipment. Paper ballots allow an election to be organized more quickly, but commissioners felt the change from electronic voting would create voter concern about the process.

“We want it straight forward,” Commissioner Alan Walter said.

The commission would need to have to its ballot information ready by the end of August to get on November’s general election ballot. That doesn’t appear likely. The commission still is waiting for updated cost figures from the county’s architect and building project consultant. Cost information is needed for the state’s attorney to draft the ballot measure.

Commissioners also indicated that the November election isn’t desirable because voters already have a large number of measures on the ballot to educate themselves on.

The increased indebtedness is being sought for an enlarged jail expansion and Courthouse renovation. Inspectors are finding the needed work on the Courthouse is more extensive than anticipated, but how much more that means in cost is not yet known.

The need for jail space also is growing faster than expected. Rather than build a structure with room to expand later, the commission would like to construct the full jail right away.

When voters previously agreed in 2012 to raise the county indebtedness, they approved a half cent sales tax to pay for it. The tax is expected to raise $39.3 million before the December 2022 sunset, allowing the tax to expire early. If voters approve more indebtedness, the tax still is expected to expire before December 2022 but would be in place longer.