Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

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July 9, 2013

Courthouse project to go to voters

Corsicana — Navarro County Commissioners made it official Monday — the public will have the final say on the proposed courthouse restoration.

Commissioners voted Monday to abandon the Certificate of Obligation method of funding its share of the proposed restoration, and instead call a general bond election in November to allow the public to decide on issuing the debt.

The Texas Historical Commission is providing a grant to pay for about $4.4 million of the project, plus a previous planning grant of $500,000. The total project has been estimated by the county’s architect at $10.8 million, but County Judge H.M. Davenport Jr. said Friday that number could change as final details of an annex and temporary courthouse location are worked out.

Davenport said in an interview Friday the change from a certificate to a general bond was the result of advice from the bond attorney the county is working with on the project, and to give the voters a chance to weigh in on the debt issue.

Under a Certificate of Obligation voters would have had to submit a petition with valid signatures from 5 percent of the county’s registered voters to have an opportunity to vote. Now, with the county opting to issue general obligation bonds, voter approval is mandated.

Commissioners did not call for the election on Monday — that's an action state law says can't be taken until after Aug. 7, Davenport said.

The vote to call for a general bond election must be at a regularly scheduled meeting of the commissioners court. The first opportunity to call the election would be at the Aug. 12 meeting.

The last day to call for a bond election for the November ballot is Aug. 26, also a regularly scheduled commissioners meeting date.

Prior to announcing its decision to make the change in funding sources, two people spoke out during the public comments portion of the meeting.

Pct. 1 Justice of the Peace Vicki Gray thanked commissioners for their decision, which gives the public the power to decide the bond, but said she was opposed to the proposed restoration.

“I love this courthouse, I’ve worked in it for years,” she said, adding that it is in need of repairs. But, she said, a restoration involves “nearly $8 million of the people’s money.”

She said the Texas Historical Commission’s requirements for the work further complicate the issue.

“I can’t see us ‘going backward’ in space,” she added.

“This building, I never want to see it torn down, but maybe we could give it to the Historical Society and let them use it for a museum, or maybe remodel it ... but without the restrictions of the Historical Commission,” she said.

She said other county officials she’s talked to that have gone through the restoration process have cautioned “be prepared to add 30 percent on top of what they say” when estimating the costs involved in an historic restoration.

Ronnie Willis also thanked commissioners for making the decision a public vote.

“After watching what happened with the (CISD bond election) it looked like it was a mandate to me that the taxpayers need a very clear understanding of how tax money is being spent,” he said.

He called changing to a bond election “a very smart move,” adding the commissioners should consider both a restoration and a renovation be placed before voters.

Willis said he would like to see a group of business leaders and all the taxing entities meet and discuss plans for future bonds proposals.

Eric Meyers Jr. of Oil City Iron Works also endorsed the move to a public vote.

“I think the public should have an option to say whether or not we spend the money,” Meyers said. “More education of the public is a great thing. Thank you for giving us that option.”

Commissioners also Monday named Phoenix Restoration and Construction of Farmers Branch as the intended construction firm for the proposed restoration. Davenport said the company has verbally agreed to honor its previously submitted proposal of $8.68 million for the restoration until Dec. 1, well after a November bond election.

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