CARTHAGE, Mo. — This year’s Jasper County budget contains a noteworthy omission: natural gas costs for the county courthouse. A year after the installation of a geothermal system for heating and cooling the Civil War-era building, the results are in.
Officials felt confident enough in the savings from the new system that they cut the county’s natural gas budget from $5,400 to $800, an 85 percent drop.
Instead of burning natural gas to heat the air inside the building in wintertime, the geothermal system pushes air into 500-foot-deep wells, where the earth is typically closer to room temperature than surface conditions.
“Because we have this new system, we don’t have an appreciable cost any more for natural gas,” Auditor Richard Webster said.
The project may also have generated savings on electricity, because courthouse employees previously used space heaters during the winter to make up for a weak heating system.
“Those little heaters will draw a lot of juice,” said Tom Flanigan, Eastern District commissioner.
The courthouse electricity budget dropped this year by $3,350, or 6.7 percent.
Courthouse employees say the new system has made the courthouse a more comfortable place to work and do business.
A comprehensive courthouse renovation, completed in early 2017, cost the county roughly $3 million. Part of the money went toward cleaning the structure’s limestone facade and building new sidewalks around Carthage’s downtown square.
County officials have said it will take roughly 15 years to pay off the cost of the geothermal system, which was funded by a quarter-cent sales tax approved by voters in 2016.
Proceeds from the tax are expected to top $31 million over its seven-year lifetime. That exceeds the county's spending on the courthouse renovation and an $8.5 million Juvenile Justice Center that is slated for completion in November.
Debt taken out to pay for the courthouse renovation is expected to be paid off by 2021.
Once the county pays off its debt for the courthouse and juvenile center projects, it would have to obtain voter approval to use any remaining sales tax funds.