Commissioners waiting for word from state on courthouse money
The Morgan County Commission is waiting for final word from Governor Joe Manchin as to whether state funds are available for rebuilding the Morgan County Courthouse. The courthouse was destroyed in an August 8 fire.
The County Commissioners hope to set up a meeting with the Governor within the next seven to 10 days, said Morgan County Commission President Glen Stotler at their April 20 meeting.
They hope to finance the
new courthouse with $4 million in insurance and $4-$4.5
million in revenue bonds. A recently approved 9% tax
hike on the county's portion
of residents' property taxes
will finance the approximate $300,000 debt service on the revenue bonds. A zero percent interest loan if offered by the state could allow them to finance the full project, said Stotler.
The new 40,0000 square-
foot three-story Morgan County Courthouse complex is expected to cost around $12.75
million. It includes a 2,400 square-foot addition to the
Morgan County Rescue Squad to house the Sheriff's Law Offices, which are now located there.
Stotler said he respects the state's concerns and understands why they are hesitant
to help us. The state had hoped that other counties would
take action to ensure that
their facilities were covered more by insurance and that has not happened, he said.
Stotler said that 100 county commissioners across the state out of 167 had four years or
less experience on the job. He felt that for the first few years a commissioner is still learning what the job entails and that insurance for many is not a priority.
County Commissioner Tommy Swaim explained that the growth in the size of the building from 22,000 square feet to 40,000 square feet was mostly to meet the Supreme Court's demand for courtroom space. They are still squeezing things in the courthouse, said Swaim.
Scaling back the courthouse features and space wasn't an option, they felt. The only way to do that would be to cut out an entire floor and everything would be even more squeezed than it is now. The consensus was to build a courthouse that would last for at least 100 years.
Town offices in courthouse?
Housing the Town of Bath offices in the courthouse could mean a four-story building instead of three stories and the Commissioners weren't sure if that was allowable by the fire marshal. No figures have been provided as to the town's needs for square footage.
If the decision were made to include the Town of Bath Offices in the building, the architect would have to go back to the drawing board. Stotler felt that the town should foot the bill for that expense. The Town of Bath would also need to meet the debt service for any space that would be constructed for them in the courthouse complex, said Stotler.
Total insurance payments so far for the courthouse have been $4,318,297, said Morgan County Administrator Bill Clark. The Courthouse Authority also gave the County Commission $500,000 toward the building of a new Morgan County Courthouse.
The county has probably spent around $1 million to purchase the portable trailers and to get the county offices operational, he said. Some of that cost was to build the county records vault. Clark has another $500,000 in transition costs incurred by the move to temporary quarters to submit to insurance.
Clark estimated that there was probably about $3 million left of the insurance money after their initial expenses. The Commissioners are hoping that when the paperwork is done that they'll have $4 million, he said.
Sales of courthouse bricks have brought in a total of $5,616.30 so far, said Chief Deputy Clerk Cathy Payne. Courthouse bricks are still available for $10 a brick and come with a certificate of authenticity, said Clark.
Payne noted that CNB donated $15,000 to the courthouse rebuilding, Valley Health Systems gave $10,000 and local and regional attorney's offices donated $9,100 to help get deeds and records placed online.
Clark said that it was hard to imagine the amount of damage inside the courthouse unless you had been inside. He had originally wanted to save the Sheriff's Office addition, but the excessive mold and dampness seen on trips to the courthouse basement convinced him that it had to be torn down.
Clark described stalactite-like growths of mold growing mostly in the basement areas. He became concerned about the health of people and firefighters in training going in and out of the building.
The Sheriff's Offices were the worst spot for flooding and there were always sump pumps running, said Clark. If you look at the pit today, there's three feet of water in the basement in that section, he said. Sometimes the sewers would back up and run through there too, he said. Clark hopes that the new courthouse will not have a basement.
The Sheriff's Offices also had received major smoke damage. A mainframe computer that was brought over to the trailers from those offices didn't last two days, said Clark. That was a major piece of equipment they had to replace. Smoke damage was considered the cause of its failure, he said.
Most of the courthouse furnishings of any value were rescued and given away to county organizations like the fire department and Parks and Recreation, said Clark. The county was told that insurance would pay for new furnishings, he said. There was a truckload of some unusable furniture and chairs that was carted away.
"If it was thrown away, it had a problem," said Clark.
Build for the future
Clark acknowledged that the $12.75 million price tag for a new courthouse does seem extravagant by Morgan County standards. He worries about the effect of rising taxes on people on fixed incomes and those with lower incomes. Clark noted that if we don't get some help from the state that the County Commissioners would have to somehow knock $5 million off the courthouse project.
"It'll be a shame if we can't build to the future," said Clark.
Clark said that he hasn't given up hope that the Governor will come through with some funding.