The Dallas County bond election is only a month away, but frustration and anger over the key proposal-construction of a new 10-story, $50 million criminal courts and office building-has been brewing since 1977.
That’s when voters originally approved construction of the building. But they later learned that the money slated for it was needed to complete the Lew Sterrett Criminal Justice Center, the cost of which had been grossly underestimated by the county.
Now, the Dallas legal and business communities are angry because they think that the county may also be underestimating the cost and size of the new courts building. Attorney Vincent Perini, president-elect of the Dallas Bar Association, says that a consulting architect and an economist for the association have proven that Dallas County badly needs at least a 13-story (preferably 16-story), $61.5 million building to accommodate the burgeoning criminal caseload over the next 10 years. Dallas Chamber of Commerce President Forrest Smith told commissioners that it’s a mistake to underestimate the needs of the criminal courts. He likened it to the underestimation made about the number of cars that would use Central Expressway when plans for the traffic-clogged thoroughfare were first made.
County Commissioner Nancy Judy says that there’s more to consider than just the cramped conditions of the current criminal court system in Dallas County. She says she wants to see those courts become more productive with the use of new word processors, special court masters and additional support staff members. She insists that adding $10 million or $11 million to the cost of the new building is not going to significantly increase the efficiency of the courts.
Judy also made it clear that she does not want the proposed court building to become the butt of jokes because of cost overruns, as the Justice Center has been.
The entire bond package is being limited to about $225 million so that the county will not have to levy a tax on county residents. Other proposals include about $20 million for state highway construction, about $131 million for county road improvements, about $17 million for restoration of county buildings, about $4 million for park improvements and about $2 million for improvements to Exposition Park.