After voters narrowly defeated a bond question that would have provided Sandoval County with $41 million to plan, design and construct an addition to the 13th Judicial District Courthouse a year ago, the County Commission on Wednesday (Nov. 8) took action that would allocate $37 million for the same purpose.

The Commission first voted to extend a 0.0625% local option on Gross Receipt Taxes (GRT). The revenue will be used to pay off a $18 million loan the Commission then approved to fund work on the county courthouse. The money will be spent on “designing, constructing and equipping a new district court facility for Sandoval County,” according to the loan agreement.

Commissioner Jay Block voted no. He said he was in support of the courthouse but, “I feel obligated to support the public and what they voted for.”

In November 2022, voters rejected a $41 million General Obligation Bond question by fewer than 800 of more than 55,000 votes cast. The County has since been looking for ways to fund the work needed to expand the facility, which Chairman David Heil said the County is obligated by state statute to provide for the state’s judicial system.

Heil noted that the state Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) went so far as to sue Otero County for its failure to provide adequate space for the state’s court system district court.

“So that’s where we’re going here,” Heil said of the three action items on the agenda that addressed funding the courthouse expansion.

The third item had to do with the magistrate court, which the County hopes to relocate to the district court site on NM 528 in Bernalillo as part of the expansion. It authorized the sale of a lease revenue note not to exceed $19 million to design, construct and equip a magistrate court facility. 

The note will be payable to the County through a lease agreement with the state AOC for the 2,300 square feet of space it will occupy, according to Rob Burpo, the county’s financial advisor. Century Bank will then purchase the note from the County in accordance with the loan agreement.

Burpo said there was $17 million of unallocated a capital outlay money that could be allocated to the project during the next legislative session that begins in January. If the County were to get some of that money, the loan obligation would be reduced by that same amount.

This time, Block made it a unanimous 4-0 vote, with Commissioner Joshua Jones absent.

The fastest growing county in the state, Sandoval has been looking to expand its existing courthouse on the outskirts of Bernalillo for some time. Built in 2005, the courthouse currently has three courtrooms and five judges. The plan for the expansion is to add more courtrooms and ancillary space for the district court on the second floor and relocate the magistrate court from its current location up the highway at the Sandoval County Detention Center.

At the same meeting, the Commission listed funding for the project as one of its legislative priorities.

The Commission meets again to canvas the results of this month’s election on Nov. 17. Its next regular meeting is scheduled for Dec. 13.

TS Last, editor

TS Last is the editor of the Corrales Comment and senior contributor to the Sandoval Signpost. A 25-year veteran of New Mexico news, he previously served as the editor of the Journal North in Santa Fe and has worked in the newsrooms of the El Defensor Chieftan and Valencia News Bulletin.

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