Battle brewing over $162 million Snohomish County courthouse

EVERETT, Wash. -- The jury box sways back and forth. People get stuck in the elevator. In 1967 no one thought about the Americans with Disabilities Act. Yet the Snohomish County courthouse's biggest problems aren't inside.

They are across the street.

Attorney Royce Ferguson is one of the men causing that trouble. His business and four others near Oakes Avenue and Wall Street in Everett are slated for demolition to make way for a new $162 million courthouse.

"This was always been a dream to be here," he said while standing in the parking lot facing the current courthouse.

Ferguson is trying to find the eminent domain and construction by spray painting enormous messages on his building aimed to raise awareness about council spending. He only half-jokingly wrote that he'll sell for $1.95 million.

"It's not just the cost of the dirt. There were plans and dreams for this place," Ferguson said.

He said the county can make do with the land it already owns.

"You know it's almost embarrassing to be a citizen and watch the decisions that are being made," Ferguson said.

Using county-owned land could have saved millions. It was also part of the original plan. In 2013 the Snohomish County Council voted in favor of spending $75 million for construction to take place on an open plaza in front of the current courthouse.

Former Sheriff John Lovick was elected as County Executive and the council changed course nearly immediately, picking the new site and more than doubling the budget to $162 million.

It also required new property taxes, which amount to more than $19 extra for the average county homeowner.

Lovick says this had to be done.

"It was not going to be adequate for the needs for the growth of this county," he said.

Newly-elected councilman Ken Klein did not vote in favor of the current location and is raising questions about the extra millions of dollars in cost.

"My biggest focus right now is we do everything we can to spend the taxpayer's money appropriately," Klein said. "In every government project we hear about cost overruns."

Yet there is one glaring cost that no one bothered to research before approving the new plan. Right now officers use an underground tunnel to walk prisoners from the jail to the courthouse. The new location will require inmates to be loaded into vans and hauled to the courthouse a mere two blocks away.

The Sheriff's office says it will have to take up to 100 inmates each day in each direction, yet no one in the county ever considered how much these transfers would cost in gas, manpower and excess pollution.

Klein said there is an investigation into costs of the inmate van transfers happening now, but the Problem Solvers have learned that those results are weeks behind schedule.

Current Sheriff Ty Trenary won't comment and former Sheriff Lovick brushes aside the concern.

"It really is not a big deal," Lovick said.

He countered that a tunnel from the new location to the current jail could cost an estimated $10 million yet no one has answered about the ongoing costs of the transfers.

Klein shares his frustration with anyone who will listen but knows reform may be tough.

"It's hard to stop a train that's already left the station," he said.

Meanwhile Ferguson will keep his spray painted wall visible to the council across the street.

"When you're spending tax money, a lot of common sense goes out the window," he said.