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Frequent Questions

Financing public safety sales tax

The proposed courthouse is a new 28-courtroom courthouse across Santa Fe Street north of the existing building. The courthouse will cost $182 million and will take four years to construct. 

A new coroner facility in Johnson County would cost $19 million. 

As decided by the Board of County Commissioners, costs for these new facilities would be paid for with a new 1/4 cent, 10-year public safety sales tax, if approved by the voters this November.

You can learn more about the public safety sales tax by taking a tour of the courthouse. Tours and presentations of the existing courthouse will be offered at 5 and 6 p.m. on the following dates:

Tuesday, Nov. 1

Please RSVP at 913-715-3300 and call 913-715-0725 at least 48 hours in advance if you require special accommodations to attend any of these meetings. 

Provide feedback about the public safety sales tax by contacting your county commissioner or emailing us your feedback at communications@jocogov.org.

If the sales tax isn't approved, the county will be required to come up with much more revenue to support the existing facility, and this will need to come from sources such as property tax and/or reduction in county services which range from mental health, corrections dept., Med-Act, development supports, to a variety of other services offered to our residents. No decision has been made as to where cuts would come from, but these would be on top of ongoing cuts the State of Kansas makes which are then passed on to counties and cities to pick up costs or reduce services locally. 

Click here for details regarding the approximately $216 million needed to expand and renovate the current building compared to the approximately $182 million needed for a new building. One of the main reasons it would be more expensive is because the existing courthouse would have to remain functional while the renovation and expansion take place. The project would take an estimated 13 years to complete. Additionally, it will cost approximately $155 million more over the next 20 years to operate and maintain the existing courthouse when compared to a new facility because of the aging infrastructure and inefficiencies of the building.

This public safety sales tax will end in 10 years and would only be extended if it is put to a ballot question at that time and voters approve renewing it. 

The State of Kansas requires any sales tax levied by the county to be shared among cities. The breakdown is 63 percent of sales tax revenue will come to the county to build a new courthouse and coroner facility, while 37 percent of the sales tax revenue goes to cities in Johnson County. This proposed 10-year sales tax would have to go back on the ballot for voter approval in order for it to be extended beyond 10 years.

The expense to renovate the former King Louie facility into the Johnson County Arts and Heritage Center (tentatively set to open summer 2017) was a very small portion of the revenue needed for a courthouse, which the state requires the county to fund. Even without the Johnson County Arts and Heritage Center project—which will replace the current aging Johnson County Museum facility and provide more and Johnson County Park and Recreation District program space—the county would still need additional revenue to fund building a new courthouse. The funds to renovate the former King Louie facility into the Johnson County Arts and Heritage Center were covered through the existing county budget, which was done without a tax increase. 

Operating efficiently with county resources is a priority for leadership. During the recent recession the county made numerous reductions and kept the mill levy steady, including navigating $46 million in on-going budget reductions, eliminated 428 full time staff positions (approximately 12% of our workforce), reduced or eliminated merit increases for three years and spent down general fund reserves from 42 to 21%. More on the current budget and our services to residents is available on our website at jocogov.org.

The sales tax you pay on any given purchase within Johnson County depends on the rate where your purchase is made. Sales tax rates in the county currently range from 7.725 to 9.725%—from which 1.225% comes to Johnson County Government, 6.5% goes to the state of Kansas and between 1 and 2% go to the city where the purchase is made. Some areas in the county also have special taxing districts.

We understand concerns about a sales tax and this is a challenging situation because we must provide a safe and secure courthouse for our residents (victims, jurors) and for those with accessibility issues. There are only two funding options for a project of this size (property tax or sales tax). When we met with residents in the first part of the year to get public feedback, the majority of residents said a quarter-cent sales tax was preferred over a property tax. The idea of an additional $2.50 per month increase in sales tax for someone buying $1,000 worth of groceries and other retail items was more acceptable than adding it to property taxes. This tax ends in 10 years.

State law requires that the county provide and maintain an adequate courthouse for the operations of the court system, which is a state operation. The state funds most of the court’s day-to-day operating expenses, but requires the county to fund construction and maintenance costs for the building. However, the state law does not authorize any funding sources for the courthouse. State laws do restrict the types of fees and taxes that the county can levy or charge, prohibiting the county from having any income related fees or fees that are excise taxes. Fees or fees for service would not be available for the county since the services are provided primarily by state operations and, in any event, would not be sufficient to cover the costs for a courthouse. The state does already impose some fees on attorneys and fines for criminals, which the state uses to fund court operations. The only sources available to the county to fund the courthouse are real estate taxes or sales taxes. The Board concluded that a sales tax limited to 10 years was preferable to a mill levy increase.  

Courthouse buildings are unique; they include features that make them quite different than standard office buildings. Estimated to cost $386 per square foot, the proposed new Johnson County Courthouse is in alignment with industry cost standards for courthouses of similar size and metropolitan locations. Standard office building costs can be half that. 

The following are cost drivers in a courthouse design:

  • Circulation: There are three distinct and separate circulation groups in a courthouse for inmate (secure), staff (and judiciary), and public. As a result, more finished floor space is built out for this circulation requirement.  This increases the cost per square foot over other types of  building construction.
  • Volume:  Much discussion is had about cost per foot of a building, but the necessity of larger ceiling heights in courtrooms require larger floor-to-floor heights and therefore more volume per sq ft than in other building types. This volume creates additional wall area and thus more cost per foot.
  • Audio/Visual and acoustic systems are necessary throughout the courtroom areas as well as public spaces, driving costs per foot higher.
  • Security: From the secure entry, which requires more area, to the holding cells, which are quite expensive per foot, the security nature of the building envelope and site make this building type very intense for security systems ranging from locking devices to camera systems, and can be $15-$25 per sq ft by themselves.
  • Mechanical systems in courtrooms require a lower volume air flow to suppress surges of noise in courtrooms. This is not about comfort as much as it is a recognition of the sensitive recording devices. This combined with large people loads at a wide variation of times, requires a more complex mechanical system to heat and cool the spaces and still conserve energy.
  • Structural systems can be more expensive than office environments because the larger spaces require more open span and the assembly occupancy of the courtrooms requires larger loading than do office environments.
  • Building envelopes of office buildings are typically designed around a developer-led building turnover with a specific number of years before anticipated renovations. As public buildings are more apt to span longer times between renovations of both interior and exterior materials, the courthouse is typically designed as a 50-100 year building rather than the 20-30 year projections on office buildings.

Click here for additional details about what would make a new courthouse more expensive than an office building.

As with all capital projects, the Board of County Commissioners will establish separate project budgets for a new courthouse and coroner facility. Should additional funding be necessary, it will go to the BOCC for approval. During the design phase for both projects, construction cost estimates will be prepared to ensure the facilities can be constructed within budget. Should those estimates indicate that a project cannot be constructed within budget, the design will be adjusted accordingly.