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Lee County to consider consolidating county courthouses

The South Lee County Courthouse in Keokuk.
Will Buss
The South Lee County Courthouse in Keokuk.

For 176 years, Lee County has operated two courthouses. But that could soon become a thing of the past.

Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a law that will permit the county to consolidate its services under one roof.

A state law established in 1848 permitted authorities in the southeast Iowa county to have two courthouses — one in Ft. Madison and the other in Keokuk.

“The reason for that law way back then was that travel at that time was maybe horse and buggy and that it took more than a day just to get to court to serve on a jury,” said Lee County Board of Supervisors Chair Garry Seyb.

“The need to have two courthouses, obviously, has changed since that law was put in place.”

He said the board has discussed moving the county’s operations to one location through the years.

He thinks taxpayers will benefit from the change.

“With Lee County looking at ways to be more efficient and to reduce our tax burden on our citizens, that's one way that I believe that we may be able to accomplish that,” Seyb said.

The new law is only the first step toward establishing one courthouse in Lee County.

Seyb said the county board will need to work with the district courts to see what the feasibility of this potential move is and what requirements will be needed to consolidate into one courthouse.

He also said the process will take time -- possibly years -- to complete.

“I don't believe this is anything that's going to happen within even the next year,” he said. “I think it's going to take us some time to come together to study the requirements of going to a single courthouse.”

Seyb also said that although Ft. Madison is the county seat, he believes the Lee County Courthouse-South in Keokuk might provide the county with the best option for consolidation.

“It would appear that the Keokuk courthouse may have that space available, but that's not to say that that's absolutely the direction we’re going, either,” he said.

“We want to sit down and look at the space requirements, the requirements of the court system, and what that’s going to do to the services that would be affected in those areas, like Keokuk.”

The courthouse at 701 Avenue F in Ft. Madison opened in 1842.

The county has operated its second courthouse in Keokuk at numerous locations since 1848.

The current Keokuk courthouse at 25 N. 7th St. has been in operation since 1992. The building dates back to 1888 and had served as a federal courthouse and a post office before the county purchased the building.

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