September 13 - Courthouse project fails with Brown County voters, property owners
The Brown County Commissioners' attempt to seek financing for renovation and expansion of the historic Brown County Courthouse has failed.
League of Women Voters President Julie Winn moderated a panel discussion and audience questions about the proposed renovation of the Brown County Courthouse on July 25. The County Commissioners have expressed their intention to proceed with a project to remodel and add on to the historic building. The proposed project, designed by architect Burt Perdue, is estimated to cost about $6.5 million including demolition and architect's fees, requiring the County to borrow as much as $8.5 million to cover interest as well. In May, more than 200 voters signed a petition demanding that the project be submitted to the public for consideration under Indiana's remonstrance procedure. A second round of signature collection, pro and con, will begin August 8. If the remonstrance (the votes opposed to the project) prevails, the commissioners must wait a year to reconsider or proceed with "a substantially similar" project.
About 60 people attended the conversation, which was held at the high school auditorium. On the panel were Commissioner Joe Wray, County Council President Dave Critzer, Indiana Landmarks Community Preservation Specialist Laura Renwick, Town Council president Bob Kirlin and former commissioner Bill Austin.
Before taking remarks from the panel, stakeholders in the courthouse renovation spoke about their needs. Judge Judith Stewart cited lack of ADA compliance, tight jury facilities and lack of security when jail inmates come to trial as major considerations. County Clerk Beth Mulry spoke of crowding, declining storage space for records, time lost traveling to the sheriff’s department to retrieve records, and lack of insulation around old windows, enabling sills to serve as refrigerators. Prosecutor Jim Oliver referenced lack of space for offices and meetings and lack of privacy for victims and juvenile defendants.
No one disagreed that the courthouse needs work.
Julie asked the panel for a tally of all county debts to date. Dave Critzer said we owe $6.7 million on the law enforcement building and $2 million on a road loan, which will be paid off in 2015. That is when twelve years of payment on the courthouse loan would begin. Critzer emphasized that if we wait a year, prices and interest will go up. He also said the cost will extend beyond the life of the debt, as maintenance of the building will be ongoing. He explained that for homeowners with a homestead deduction, the increase in home taxes will be as low as $23 per $100,000 value of their homes (though it would be closer to $60 per $100,000 without that deduction).
Joe Wray explained the commissioners’ choice of Perdue’s plans over previously submitted plans by Steve Miller (at closer to $3.5 million two years ago) by saying architects are selected on a rotating basis. (Click HERE to view/download architectural plans.
Audience participants, including Sheriff Followell, brought up the possibility of building an annex near the jail for trials of inmates and storage of records. Remodeling the Brown County Inn for county use was briefly considered. General concern over the cost of this project was expressed. The meeting lasted almost three hours.
The next step begins on August 8, when interested people may pick up forms at the clerk’s office in the courthouse and begin gathering registered voter signatures in support of the courthouse plan (petitions) or against it (remonstrances).
They have until Sept. 9 to turn in the forms, after which the clerk must verify the signatures before Oct. 14 Whichever side gathers the most signatures will prevail.