Courthouse lot will be interesting
Monday, May 19, 2014 10:00 PM
One of the hot items being cussed and discussed is what's going to happen with the courthouse parking lot.
Two cents, which is about how much Timmons said his columns are worth, appears periodically on Tuesdays in The Paper. Timmons is the publisher of The Paper and can be contacted at email@example.com.
To review: The county, mostly led by County Commissioner Phil Bane, is considering various options regarding the courthouse parking lot. Those options range from spending a whole bunch of money (the amount depends on who you're talking to) to not doing much at all. Reactions have been just as varied - from ho hum, to you've got to be kidding me.
But all of that may not be the most interesting discussion, at least from a political perspective. Jim Fulwider, current county commissioner and winner of the GOP nod in the primary, is a heavy favorite to win re-election in the fall. While the Democrats might offer someone to run against him and an independent or two might jump in, Fulwider is clearly the man to beat.
That's where the courthouse comes in.
During the primary campaign and the debate, Fulwider surprised some by backing off the hot-button item of zoning and also took a wait-and-see approach on the proposed changes to the courthouse lot.
When asked about his reaction to a beautification plan that called for concrete islands and greenery that would take away some parking spaces and cost taxpayers a fair amount of money, Fulwider said that he wasn't so sure about the plan. He brought up snow removal being negatively impacted with the proposed changes. He certainly did not offer a full endorsement.
So what's the political rub?
An educated guess is that Bane will push for changes, some of which will probably be unpopular with the public. Commissioner Terry Hockersmith will likely vote against spending the money. That leaves the deciding vote square on the shoulders of the only commissioner running for election.
To be fair, Bane said he isn't pushing to wastefully spend taxpayer money. I talked to him last week and came away convinced that he truly believes what he's telling people; that there are security issues at the courthouse that need to be addressed. When that happens, Bane said he thinks those changes will end the grandfathered exemption the courthouse has on ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) requirements. That will force the county to come into ADA compliance. And lastly, Bane said that he thinks it's important for the courthouse area to look nice to people driving by. It's pretty simple. He got elected with the marching orders to do what he thinks right and best for this county and that's what he says he's doing.
Whether or not citizens (and voters) agree might end up having no impact on Bane but on Fulwider.
In a nutshell, here's what some opponents to massive spending on this project are saying:
The cumulative capital fund has a large balance in it that - by law - can't be used for things like salaries and roads and such. It's earmarked to pay for things like the courthouse renovation. However, two points are being raised on this. First, keep the money in case a roof needs replaced or some other major expenditure unexpectedly pops up. Second, lower the levy for the cumulative capital fund and reduce the amount of money going into it. At the same time, raise the levy for the general fund. Or, in simpler terms, quit stockpiling money where it's not as needed and put it where it is. This would give the county flexibility for those raises they keep talking about.
What's really "required?" Even Bane said that upgrading security will "probably" trigger the ADA changes. But he wasn't 100 percent sure. Shouldn't we know without a doubt what has to be done and what doesn't?
And to what degree? Bane said that he would walk away before living with a cheap wood ramp to comply with ADA for handicap accessibility. I agree with him. But the last number I heard for the cost of a ramp was $180,000. I hope I heard wrong because that would be a hell of a ramp, wouldn't it?
Is the county afoul of the city? Another point / counterpoint is that the city has a zoning ordinance that the courthouse property is not in compliance with. I'm no attorney, but I can tell you from talking to several who are that there is a fair debate whether that's accurate or not.
Lastly, who's clamoring for this? Any citizens? Or is it just government officials? I could be wrong - wouldn't be the first time - but I'd be willing to bet a week's pay that if this went to a referendum it wouldn't stand a chance.
If they want it to look better, then sell the land and let someone do something attractive and positive with it. That would put it back on the tax rolls and eliminate the wide-open north side of the courthouse (a security issue). Besides, there aren't that many courthouses around with their own parking lots.
Critics - including me - say that government officials all too often spend our tax money quicker and easier than they would their own. But it might be unfair to say that in this particular case. At least some of them believe they are doing the right thing. If they go forward, however, that may or may not create a backlash that could impact Fulwider in the fall.
Three commissioners, three votes. Two seem pretty certain. It's going to be interesting.