Our tax dollars

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Construction of the new federal courthouse in Cape Girardeau has been underway for a few years. The imposing structure, with its multistory domed atrium as its front entrance, is a major part of the downtown skyline. But the building remains unoccupied because of a roof that isn't up to the General Services Administration's specifications, and the GSA estimates it will cost $2 million to pass muster -- plus it means another move-in delay of as much as seven months after the extra funding is approved.

At about the same time the information regarding the delay was made public, the GSA also announced that it is moving the Social Security Administration operations to a new building that will be constructed by a private developer on Cape Centre Drive off South Kingshighway and leased for $272,371 a year. The new 9,738-square-foot space will be about 65 percent larger than the two spaces currently occupied by Social Security offices in the existing federal building at Broadway and Fountain Street and a satellite office on South Silver Springs Road.

Anyone sizing up the 173,392-square-foot new federal courthouse might wonder why all the offices in the 48,440-square-foot existing federal building won't be moving into the new building when it's ready. Instead, the new building will be used mostly for U.S. district court purposes, along with space for congressional offices and the U.S. Marshals Service and U.S. attorneys.

The Social Security offices will relocate from the old building to new leased space. The IRS office is in rented space elsewhere in the city. The FBI and Drug Enforcement Agency, currently housed in the old federal building, could stay put and pay rent to new owners.

The announcement that the Social Security office, which currently operates in cramped quarters, is going to move into yet another new building dramatically underscores the disconnect of spending well over $60 million for a new courthouse that will house less of the federal government's operations than the old federal building.

Not to mention that there is a considerable amount of available office space in Cape Girardeau right now. The owners of the Marquette Tower and nearby Marquette Centre in downtown Cape Girardeau (across Broadway from the old federal building) have put both properties up for sale. Prost Builders of Jefferson City, Mo., purchased the buildings and renovated them with the expectation that state offices and other tenants would rent much of the space. But the state has backed away from additional commitments to office space. And the building formerly occupied by the state offices that moved into the Marquette is still vacant.

Taxpayers who have grown accustomed to the ease with which state and federal governments spend our money are wondering who's minding the store.

From their standpoint, their money isn't being put to the best uses possible.

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