Tuesday, July 21, 2009

AIA: $347 Million Court Tower Boondoggle Hurts Taxpayers

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors is spending $347 million to construct what they refer to as a “state of the art” brand-new court tower. Yet, many taxpayers are unaware of the details behind this project and the reason why this project continues may be found in the money.

Maricopa County is facing a $138.2 million budget shortfall. In response, numerous county employees have been laid off in recent months, including 40 Superior Court employees that would staff some of these offices to be featured in the court tower. Also, county law enforcement has been cut by 15% and Sheriff Arpaio is having difficulty finding sufficient deputies to transport inmates to and from court. All in all, we are talking about budget shortfalls and staff reduction, yet it appears that the Maricopa County Supervisors have their minds set on this budget breaking project.

The court tower, to be constructed of marble, travertine, porcelain and wood floors, is the most expensive venture the county has ever undertaken. As if the overindulgence and sheer nonsensical relocation of all court business in Maricopa County weren’t enough to question, the timing for this massive construction project is extraordinarily misguided at best considering the current recession and projected economic forecast.

In the past, satellite courthouses were gradually built up around the Valley to accommodate the growing population, as is being done in other counties around the nation. Superior Court Presiding Judge Barbara Mundell told the Supervisors at a public meeting on October 4, 2006, that co-location of the regional court facilities has “helped tremendously,” “made economic sense,” and provided “improved customer service.” Maricopa County is the second fastest growing large county in the nation. Bringing those satellite court locations back downtown into one consolidated building only increases the cost to taxpayers due to the time increase for law enforcement and the greater usage of fuel by their transport vehicles to drive further into the city. Just for a reference, the Mesa courthouse location is 19 miles away from downtown.

Since this projected plan was in the works, the Maricopa County Supervisors were told several times during public meetings by their budget analysts last year that they could back off on building such an expensive building. The reason given by their analysts was simple… it’s that the tax revenues aren’t coming in as high as we expected or hoped. Yet, the Maricopa County Supervisors have ignored this advice and refused to budge on the centralization of the county courts or its extravagance. The Board of Supervisors also discovered recently that even with cutting all other areas of county government, they still don’t have enough cash for the project. Now, why are they digging in their heels on this project?

There may be a reason for their obstinacy. We discovered some very interesting data when we looked into the campaign finance reports of the Maricopa County Supervisors. The contractors who won the bids for the court tower project have ties to the County Supervisors. The owner of Goodman Schwartz, the consulting firm which represents DMJM, the interior design company for the court tower, contributed $150 to Supervisor Don Stapley last year. A Project Manager at HDR Inc., the architectural, engineering and consulting firm for the court tower, contributed $50 to Supervisor Wilson last year. A law partner of Tom Irvine, who has been paid over $800,000 over the past three years for legal help with the tower, contributed $390 to Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox last year. This makes this construction project all the more interesting considering the political contributions and does force us to beg the question if there is an appearance of impropriety going on here.

However, the cause is not lost. The Maricopa County Supervisors will meet on July 22, 2009 at 9am at the Supervisors Auditorium at 205 W. Jefferson, Phoenix, AZ, (details here)to vote on changing the funding to bonding - a move that will cost taxpayers even more money by spreading it out over the years. We strongly encourage you to attend this meeting and demand that the Supervisors halt this unaffordable patronage and stick to improving our existing courthouses.

If you are unable to attend, please contact the Maricopa County Supervisors today and tell them that you want this project to stop immediately.

Arizonans In Action | 3655 W Anthem Way | Suite A-109, PMB 412 | Phoenix | AZ | 85086
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