Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

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December 3, 2012

County tables courthouse restoration action again

Corsicana — The Navarro County Commissioners Court spent nearly two hours behind closed doors Monday, but took no action on either topic stated for the closed meeting.

Commissioners scheduled executive sessions to discuss personnel and real property. However, the session ended with commissioners taking no action on items discussed in the executive session.

Also receiving no action from Monday’s agenda was the hiring of a financial advisor to help the county with funding its share of a possible courthouse restoration project, and the architect’s agreement for the courthouse restoration project.

During the closed session, which was also attended by County Auditor Kathy Hollomon and District Attorney R. Lowell Thompson, commissioners called Karalei Nunn of 1113 Architects into the meeting for a short time. County Judge H.M. Davenport Jr. said the architect’s agreement was a personnel matter.

Commissioners are expected to address the courthouse restoration project again at the Dec. 10 commissioners court hearing, when a decision is reportedly due on whether or not the county will officially accept the state grant of approximately $4.5 million to fund a portion of the project.

“We were given some information that needed to be considered,” James Olsen, Pct. 4 Commissioner said of the reason for no action by commissioners Monday. Olsen said they received the information “late.” Also lacking, he said, were final numbers to consider for the financial portion of the project.

“We’ve got to have information to base the decision on,” he added. “Facts and numbers, and those numbers have not been put together yet.”

Pct. 2 Commissioner Dick Martin agreed with Olsen’s statement about needing more facts.

“We got information from four guys right as we were going into the meeting,” Martin said. “It’s just been a laborious task to get the information that we need to really go forward.”

Part of the problem, Martin said, is that there hasn’t been a “leader” of the project. Now, he says, they are running out of time and “we have to deal with the time crunch.”

Questions about what parts of the project could be paid by the grant or any bond or certificate issue have also slowed progress, said Pct. 1 Commissioner Kit Herrington.

“It seems to be somewhat of a ‘moving target’ as far as getting a figure on what the total cost will be,” he added. He said time available to work on the project has been a problem.

All three commissioners said they were against any tax increase to fund the project, another area that has brought differing opinions from financial advisors the county has talked with thus far, said Davenport.

“Overall, I think commissioners still have that big stigma of ‘someone’s mentioned tax increase,’ and with the fact that our economic times are somewhat down from where they’ve been, they just have this fear of the unknown,” Davenport said. He also acknowledged the concerns of what can be paid for out of grant or bond sale proceeds, and what must be paid for out of the general fund — a question that’s been sent to the Attorney General.

At its Nov. 26 meeting, commissioners agreed the next step needed was to hire a financial advisor before they could proceed any further in the process. With no action taken at Monday’s meeting, that could also appear on the Dec. 10 agenda.

Susan Gammage with the Texas Historical Commission said at the Nov. 26 meeting the county needed to show the commission it was “moving forward” with the restoration program, including the signing of an agreement accepting the funds, or face the possible loss of the construction grant. Gammage said that action could come at the Texas Historic Commission’s January meeting.

Davenport, though, said he was going to write the Texas Historic Commission this week to request another extension of time for the county to continue its work gathering information and making a final decision.

Should the county not go through with the restoration as outlined in the grant agreement, it will also face having to pay back a nearly $500,000 planning grant it has already spent preparing the restoration plans.

The cost of the restoration has been estimated at about $9.1 million, with the county responsible for the amount above the $4.5 million state grant. Not included in the $9.1 million figure — the costs associated with temporarily housing courthouse operations for about 30 months; moving offices out and back in to the courthouse; and the cost of building a courthouse annex to house offices that may not be able to return to a renovated courthouse, based on what plans are chosen for the work.

The Dec. 10 commissioners meeting will be at 10 a.m.

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Bob Belcher may be reached by email at belcher@corsicanadailysun.com. Want to “Soundoff” on this story? Email: soundoff@corsicanadailysun.com

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