ECTOR COUNTY - The people have spoken. In close to 2:1 vote, they've decided a $95 million courthouse is just not worth it.
But county officials say that doesn't mean citizens won't have to spend money to keep the current building functional.
The iconic downtown building will stay there, well at least until there's a new plan on the table, which commissioners say won't be for a while. In the meantime, citizens will most likely have to pay higher taxes to help fund courthouse repairs that most people acknowledge need immediate attention.
"What we know is that within the next three to four years, we have $10 million dollars worth of immediate-need repairs. So if we're going to be in this building for that much longer, that's probably what we'll have to do," Ector County Judge, Susan Redford, said.
Redford was talking about increasing taxes especially because they said they also need a couple of new courts within the next two years. That money plus the $10 million will come out of a general fund instead of a bond issue, which means two things: that people won't be able to vote on it and that it could ultimately lead to citizens spending more money than if they had just approved the bond.
In the bond election, Ector County had a 65 percent to 35 percent vote against the bond.
"We did not have to put this issue out to vote. We could have done like other entities and just issued the debt outright but we didn't. We went to the taxpayers because we felt that was the right thing to do. And they made the decision and so we have to respect that decision and move on," Redford said.
Moving on means going back to the drawing board but officials could have some help from their former opposition, the Citizens for Responsible Government, an organization that led the "Vote No" Campaign.
"We want to work with the County Judge and the Commissioners Court to have a realistic plan now moving forward. Because we've said all along, we want to help solve the issue but we want a reasonable alternative to $95 million. I think that just blew everybody out of the water," Jason Moore, with the Citizens for Responsible Government, said.
"I think it's time that we do engage in conversations community wide, not just with one particular sector, but with everyone, because this is a building and a decision that affects the entire community," Redford said.