County & town talk about combining facilities
A Town of Bath delegation asked the Morgan County Commission to revisit the possibility of combined county and municipal facilities in the future Morgan County Courthouse complex.
Town of Bath Mayor Susan Webster, Town Councilman and Finance Committee chairperson David Crosby, Town Councilwoman Nancy Harvey and Town Recorder and Finance Committee member Garnet Marsh were there to present the town's case for combined facilities.
Webster had proposed the idea of joining town and county facilities under one roof after the courthouse had burned. Webster said that she had seen combined county and town facilities when she visited Fairmont. The town is very cramped in their current quarters, she said.
Webster said they had backed off from pursuing the idea of combined facilities after the Commission had expressed concerns about traffic patterns and congestion.
Both the County Commissioners and Bath officials had previously thought that the possibility of joint facilities was a dead issue until Governor Joe Manchin's recent visit.
In an April 11 meeting with the Morgan County Commission, Manchin encouraged the county to explore finding room for Town of Bath offices in the future Morgan County courthouse complex. He suggested that the state might look more favorably on helping to fund the courthouse project, which is still $4-5 million short of needed revenue.
Webster said they had come back to talk about the possibility of combined facilities because of the governor's interest. County Commission President Glen Stotler said that "there was no guarantee of one dime from the state."
"You've brought us to a screeching halt," said County Commissioner Tommy Swaim of the courthouse project.
The architect had been asked to stand down until the combined facility issue was resolved, said Stotler. The architect was, however, looking at how the courthouse complex could be built for $8-$9 million if that was all the money the county could raise.
Stotler told Bath officials, "You jeopardized our project."
Meant no harm
The town didn't mean to slow or halt the courthouse rebuilding or cause any harm or disrespect, said Webster. They had no idea that the governor had tied any funding to the county and town combining facilities in the new courthouse, she said.
Stotler noted, "No one has said if you work it out, we'll give you the money."
Stotler chided Bath officials for not knowing what they needed in terms of square footage, its estimated cost and how they were going to pay for it. Webster said that the courthouse architect had indicated to her in a January letter that there had been no instructions for him to include space for the town facilities in the courthouse design. They had dropped the issue, she said.
"Where we are and how we got here is not important. It's important how we can go forward," said Crosby.
Square footage, costs
Crosby said the town couldn't come up with $3-$4 million to pay for an additional floor to house town services. The current courthouse design has three floors. A fourth floor may not be possible with fire marshal guidelines.
The Town of Bath has around 2700 square feet now in building space, said Webster. With the addition of the Warm Springs Public Sewer District space, the total comes to about 3600 square feet.
Crosby estimated that around $700,000 would be needed if the estimated cost per square foot was $230. Courtroom and meeting space could be shared, Webster said. Office space may only require 1500 square feet, she said later.
The Town of Bath could raise their share of the money by selling properties and through grants, loans or lend-lease programs for municipalities, said Webster.
"If there's not $700,000 to $800,000 that the town can bring to this project, we should just move on," said Stotler.
Stotler noted that the actual courthouse space that the county may have might be less than they previously had due to the Supreme Court requirements on courtroom space. Around two-thirds of the building space is geared for courtrooms.
Harvey asked if exterior adjustments would need to be made if the town facilities were included or if it would all have to fit in three stories. Swaim thought that the building would have to move closer to the street to accommodate space for town offices. The outdoor landscaping areas would probably be made smaller, he said.
Allow for future growth
Stotler advised that the Town of Bath allow for some future growth in their proposed space as did the county in their courthouse designs. Webster indicated that other options and other nearby properties might be a possibility for their facilities instead of space inside the future courthouse complex.
Stotler said that the county was not interested in housing the town police department in the future courthouse complex. The Morgan County Sheriff's Department is now housed at the Morgan County Rescue Service building where an addition will be built for them as part of the Morgan County Courthouse reconstruction. Stotler said it was the norm now for Sheriff's Departments to be located outside of town.
County Commissioner Brenda Hutchinson said the County Commission needed specifics on the Town of Bath's square footage needs, cost estimate and potential funding sources as soon as possible so as to not drag out the courthouse project.
Hutchinson said that she was amazed as someone new to government that the two entities hadn't had this discussion before this. Hutchinson later noted that she never said that she was opposed to combining county and town facilities but felt that it should've been discussed sooner so things could have been done in a more timely fashion.
Stotler also noted in the afternoon session that he wasn't a big fan of mixing town and county governments, but said that he was willing to take a look at it if "that's what it takes to get the job done."
Crosby said that the town didn't want to hurt the county and that they wanted to see a good courthouse. They wanted to cooperate and look at the option of a combined facility. The town could decide against it if it was not in their best interest, he said.
Crosby will have all the requested square footage, cost estimate and figures prepared for their May 21 town council meeting. The town council will either approve the figures and make their request to the county or vote against combining town and county facilities.
Town of Bath officials will also meet on Thursday, May 17 with Governor Manchin.