Reardon vetoes tax for bigger courthouse

EVERETT — A major expansion of the Snohomish County Courthouse likely will have to wait longer than some had hoped.

County Executive Aaron Reardon on Wednesday vetoed a measure that would have sent a $163.2 million tax package to voters in November. The measure would have remodeled the current courthouse and built a 10-story addition between the current courthouse and Wall Street.

The County Council voted 3-2 on July 21 to send the measure to the ballot.

“It’s too big, it cost too much, too many last-minute amendments were added that made it inefficient,” Reardon said. “Taking this approach to a $163 million tax increase is out of step with the taxpaying public.”

Two councilmen who supported the package fired back at Reardon on Wednesday.

“Once again, he has vetoed a measure without ever indicating that he was opposed to it,” County Councilman Dave Gossett said. “We held a public hearing and he didn’t say boo.”

The current courthouse — part of which opened in 1910, with an addition in 1967— is overcrowded and lacks adequate security, many county officials agree. The plan was recommended by a study panel that included representatives of the various aspects of law enforcement in the county, including the sheriff’s office, judges, the prosecuting attorney’s office and clerks.

“First of all, the existing facilities are decrepit and crowded,” County Councilman Dave Somers said. “We needed to take action.”

The 30-year property-tax measure would have cost 10.9 cents per $1,000 of assessed value of a home. That would be $38 a year for the owner of a $350,000 home.

It would take a 4-1 vote of the council to override Reardon’s veto. The two who voted against sending the measure to the ballot, Councilmen John Koster and Mike Cooper, said a veto override won’t happen.

Koster said rising prices for gasoline and food, along with other economic problems, have cut disposable income for many.

“I just don’t think now is the time to go the ballot and ask people for money they don’t have,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to fly with the voters.”

Cooper echoed an argument made by Reardon in questioning whether projected employee increases in the courthouse — the equivalent of 377 positions by 2025 — would come to pass.

“I thought it was too big,” Cooper said both of the measure and the 10-story expansion. “I thought that we assumed square footage for new employees I thought we might never see.”

Cooper said he’d support a scaled-back version. Koster said other interim measures could be taken to improve security, such as hiring more marshals and making adjustments on when defendants are brought to courtrooms.

“Get that thing down to a size that’s manageable and a size we can feel better about asking the voters to support,” Cooper said.

Somers joined Gossett in criticizing Reardon’s approach to the issue. He said the veto caught him off the guard because the executive’s office wasn’t involved in the process.

“I think it’s totally out of line to criticize the council,” Somers said.

Not true, Reardon said. He insisted that he made his opinions known to council members.

“I met with Somers no less than 12 times on this issue throughout the year,” Reardon said. “I told him I would veto it all along.

“I think they need to go back to the drawing board, come up with a package that’s smaller and more responsible, listen to the taxpayers and bring something back to the February election if they’re so inclined,” Reardon said.

Reardon did not come forward with a plan of his own, Gossett said.

“It requires some leadership and his cooperation,” Gossett said. “I think frankly the ball is in his court now to come up with a proposal that will meet his test.”

Herald reporter Yoshiaki Nohara contributed to this story.

Reporter Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439 or sheets@heraldnet.com.

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