To the editor:
I write to correct some misinformation contained in a recent article (August 7, "Commissioners chip in after court fees fall short") in your paper concerning the loan payments for the courthouse renovation of 2006 2007.
By 2002 the condition of the courthouse was seriously deteriorating. The roof leaked (plastic tablecloths were being used to protect law books and equipment); the HVAC system was inconsistent at best (often hot in summer and cold in winter); the windows were in dire need of replacement (some were actually in danger of falling out of the building into the street); and the two courtrooms on the second floor had not had any attention (lighting, wall coverings, carpeting, draperies) 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, the 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 (offices and restrooms). Eventually, the 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 the 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 the 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 the commissioners' annual share of $25,000 (a total of $75,000). By 2010, it was necessary to ask the commissioners to pay their share of the court's loan ($25,000). They hesitated at first but eventually acknowledged their original commitment. To hopefully 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 as stated in this letter.
The court has also assisted the Board of Commissioners in another major way. In the interest of cooperation with the commissioners regarding annual general fund budgeting, the court has operated under it 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 the 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,