DALLAS – Travis County voters would decide in November on general obligation bonds to build a new $343 million civil and family courthouse in downtown Austin under a plan outlined Tuesday to commissioners.
Commissioners must decide on a funding approach before asking voters for the new debt, whether the price tag is $205 million if built by a public-private partnership or $343 million as a standard design-build project, said County Judge Samuel Biscoe.
“This courthouse is going to cost $250 million to $350 million any way you look at it,” Biscoe said. “If we’re going to ask the public to lay out that kind of money, they need to know we have done the due diligence on how to fund it.”
The county would finance 60% of the project with the bond proceeds if the project is developed through a public-private partnership. Travis County would be responsible for 100% of the financial plan if commissioners opt for a traditional approach.
The replacement proposal calls for a 17-story structure with at least 500,000 square feet.
The county purchased a parking lot in 2010 with $21.8 million as a site for the new facility. The site is near Austin City Hall and close to a new eight-story federal courthouse.
An advisory committee of up to 20 members will be created to assist the commissioners in deciding how to fund the project.
A feasibility study in August 2012 recommended building the project through a P3 instead of a more traditional approach, but county has not settled on a method.
The committee also recommended the project be financed with certificates of obligation, which do not require voter approval, but a majority of the commissioners said the decision should be decided at an election.
Commissioners considered a $300 million GO bond package for the courthouse replacement project in 2010, but it never made it to the ballot. Travis County voters in November 2010 approved $215 million of GO bonds for county parks and roads.
Judges holding court in the Sweatt Courthouse have been asking the county to replace the 85-year-old facility since 2003.
There is no question that the existing courthouse is inadequate and overcrowded, said Commissioner Gerald Daugherty.
“This community needs this courthouse,” he said. “It’s way beyond time for us to find a way to get this going.”
An advisory committee of up to 20 members will be created to assist the commissioners decide on how to fund the courthouse.
The schedule outlined to commissioners calls for the funding decision in early August. If a P3 method is selected and voters approve the bonds, the county would issue a request for private partners in January 2014.
Travis County’s $656 million of outstanding debt is rated triple-A by Moody’s Investors Service and Standard & Poor’s.