I write to correct some misinformation contained in a recent article in your paper concerning the loan payments for the courthouse renovation.
By 2002 the condition of the courthouse was seriously deteriorating. The roof leaked; the HVAC system was inconsistent at best; the windows were in dire need of replacement; and the two courtrooms on the second floor had not had any attention in decades. Jurors often complained about the drafty jury rooms and their substandard restroom facilities, and there were no plans by anyone to do anything. That is when the judges stepped forward.
Former Commissioner David Cranmer had made the judges aware of the possibility of obtaining a low interest 30-year loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Recovery Fund. During the development of the project, which did involve some changes along the way as most projects do, commissioners agreed to pay $25,000 annually toward the court's loan for the roof, HVAC, and renovation of the two main courtrooms and adjacent facilities. Eventually, commissioners also applied for an additional amount to ensure the windows were replaced throughout the entire courthouse. They assumed full responsibility for the payment of that separate loan.
The court is funded from various sources (including the county's General Fund). Changes in the law and administrative regulations to the various sources can change those levels of funding and that was discussed with commissioners. No guarantees were made because none could be made. In the course of the project, the court requested from the county auditor a letter setting forth the anticipated balances in the county's Debt Service Fund. It indicated that, providing commissioners did not incur additional debt, there would be sufficient monies annually to pay the commissioners' window loan and to support payment of up to $40,000 toward the court's renovation loan
After the renovation loan closed and during the first three years (2007-2009) of repayment, the court not only paid its share of the loan, but also commissioners' annual share of $25,000 (a total of $75,000). By 2010, it was necessary to ask commissioners to pay their share of the court's loan ($25,000). They hesitated, but eventually acknowledged their original commitment. To prevent that situation from recurring, the court journalized in the office of the Clerk of Courts not only a history of the project but also the documents outlining the agreed payment responsibilities.
The court has also assisted commissioners in another major way. In the interest of cooperation with commissioners regarding annual general fund budgeting, the court has operated under its budget order every year since the project began. That savings from 2005 through 2012 totals $1,311,584.27. The court handles as many matters as possible by telephone to reduce courthouse traffic and use, and has devised a system to recoup from litigants a portion of the county phone bill. Since 2009, over $16,500 has been turned over to commissioners to apply toward telephone charges. It should be remembered that the court's loan includes the roof and the HVAC system, both of which benefit the entire courthouse of which all of us can once again be proud.
Since only commissioners and no judges were contacted by your paper for the article, the opportunity to set the record straight is appreciated.
C. Ashley Pike
Court of Common Pleas