Santa Rosa County Commissioners could select a site for a new judicial center as early as Thursday, although several county residents have urged them not to ignore East Milton as a probable location.
Earlier this month, commissioners selected the roughly 45 acre site on U.S. Highway 90, west of Avalon Boulevard, owned by Charter Bank as their top pick to house the proposed judicial center. At Monday’s meeting, commissioners focused their attention on a 10 acre plot inside the larger site located off of Highway 90 and has an asking price of $840,000.
“A lot of people will disagree, obviously, with the site selection,” said Commissioner Lane Lynchard. “Likewise, I’ve spoken with a lot of people who agree with that location. It’s time to move forward.”
Commissioners are expected to vote on selecting a site for the judicial center as early as Thursday’s meeting.
One of the concerns commissioners expressed with purchasing land not on the highway itself is the board would have no say in what businesses would be developed in front of the proposed judicial center.
Commissioners have asked county staff to go back to Coldwell Banker, the real estate company representing Charter Bank, about also purchasing the land between Highway 90 and the site they have tentatively selected for the judicial center.
The proposed judicial center currently has an estimated cost between $32 and $37 million to build. Once a site is selected, commissioners intend to hold a series of public workshops to gather feedback from the community on what they want and don’t want included in the final design.
Funding for the judicial center is expected to come from a dedicated sales tax the voting public will have to approve in a referendum later this year.
County resident Jerry Couey said the public would not likely approve a sales tax if the commissioners purchased additional land for the judicial center when the county already owned land in East Milton that could house it.
“The citizens in this county still remember the $3.2 million Pullum property that we purchased that we’ve done nothing with,” Couey said. “I really think you need to rethink this and reconsider East Milton for this location.
“I’m not in disagreement of us needing a courthouse, but I am in disagreement of us buying more property,” he added. “I’ve had enough of my tax dollars buying property that certain folks can’t sell.”
Commissioner Don Salter said the Pullum property was purchased for industrial growth and that the infrastructure in East Milton was not adequate for the increased traffic a judicial center would bring.
“We can put it in a lot of different places, but it’s not centrally located and it doesn’t have the adequate infrastructure,” Salter said. “That’s what I’m basing my opinion on: Where can you put it that serves the most people with adequate infrastructure.”