In an effort to keep the citizens of Seneca County informed and promote good government, please allow me to update your readers about the former 1884 courthouse.
I often have been asked, "We have done without a courthouse for so long, why must we do anything?" The reason we must either renovate or remove and replace the former 1884 courthouse is that our juvenile and probate court is in a building (the former Carnage Library) that does not conform to federal law and standards for public buildings.
According to the space utilization study completed by Stilson and Associates in 2005, in addition to noncompliance issues, the juvenile court building is not large enough to allow for proper court function. Every day Seneca County continues to operate juvenile court in this building, we are exposing our taxpayers to a possible lawsuit.
Again, it cannot be overstated that the compelling reason for action is Seneca County is at risk of a lawsuit for noncompliance with federal law.
Simply removing the former courthouse does not address the issue of an inadequate juvenile court building. If we remove the former courthouse, we must build a new building to provide space for the justice system. This is an important point, as I realize there are many people who would like to have the former 1884 courthouse just removed and have nothing built in its place. However, that does nothing to protect the taxpayer from possible liability for not complying with federal law.
In the past, the voters overwhelmingly have voted against a tax increase for a renovation project. This vote should not be confused with voting to remove the former courthouse. The message is loud and clear that the citizens do not want an increase in taxes and I will not pursue a solution to the courthouse that includes a tax increase.
I believe the majority of Seneca County residents want the commissioners to address the courthouse situation within our budget. In other words, the commissioners should choose the most fiscally responsible option that addresses the juvenile court building situation and does not raise taxes.
A plan to remove and replace the former courthouse will cost local taxpayers about $6.5 million. The current plan submitted by the Seneca County Courthouse and Downtown Development Group to renovate the former 1884 courthouse would cost local taxpayers about $4.5 million. If the SCCDDG is successful in raising all the funds it has proposed, clearly the most fiscally responsible direction is renovation. If the SCCDDG cannot come up the funding it has proposed, the commissioners will be forced to re-evaluate the current direction.
Note: According to a study by the architectural firm of MKC, the maintenance on the renovated 1884 courthouse building would be less than that of a new building over a 25-year time frame.
Many people have commented they are not confident in the proposal put forward by the SCCDDG with respect to structural integrity, cost estimates and available funds. My only response is the engineers and architects who developed this plan are the very same people who renovated the Ohio State Capital and the Ohio Supreme Court buildings. As I am neither an engineer nor an architect, I must rely on the professionals' opinions to make my decisions.
I understand the temptation to believe the "barroom" experts who say the former courthouse is not structurally sound and/or the renovation will be much more expensive; however, doing so would be akin to ignoring the advice of your personal physician and accepting the advice of someone absent a medical degree. I also understand that the most politically popular thing to do would be remove the former courthouse regardless of the financial considerations; however, that is not good government and not good leadership.
As an elected official, I am compelled to continually evaluate new information as it becomes available in order to make the best and most responsible decisions for Seneca County. I will continue to move Seneca County in a fiscally responsible direction because I truly believe that is what must be done for us to prosper well into the future. As a commissioner, I am not emotionally attached to either plan, I only want to make the decision that provides for good government in the most cost effective manner possible.