Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

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December 10, 2012

Courthouse restoration gets green light now; referendum vote possible

Corsicana — On the agenda for a third consecutive commissioners court meeting, the signing of an agreement with the Texas Historic Commission for the proposed renovation of the Navarro County Courthouse finally got a vote — unanimous approval.

Commissioners had twice tabled the action — viewed by the THC as a sign of “moving forward” with the proposed renovation of Corsicana’s 105-year-old courthouse — before Monday’s vote. While the county essentially agreed to accept the state grant of approximately $4.5 million — less than half the cost of the project — it had not yet signed a funding agreement, one of several documents that will follow during various phases of the planning and work.

Commissioners also agreed Monday to hire a financial advisor and approve the architect’s contract for continued work, after a lengthy discussion as to how the architect will be paid before the proceeds of any certificate of obligation issue to help pay the county’s share of the restoration, and the relocation of courthouse operations for approximately 30 months.

The prospects of private funding from community organizations and trusts was also discussed Monday, with County Judge H.M. Davenport indicating moving forward with the project will help spur such donations, some coming as soon as perhaps January, which could help pay for work until income from certificates of obligation was realized, or for work that could not be paid by a bond issue.

“I think we have people behind us on this,” said Pct. 3 Commissioner David “Butch” Warren. “I think we’ll be pleasantly surprised.”

Still, the project faces a possible referendum vote of sorts. One citizen in attendance — Bobby Vickery of Frost — has indicated a petition will be circulated to call for a referendum vote on the issuance of any certificate of obligation for the project. The vote would not be a direct referendum vote on the restoration of the courthouse, only on the method of helping to fund the county’s share of those costs through a bond issue. Petitions signed by 5 percent of the Navarro County’s registered voters would put the matter on either the May or November ballot, although Davenport said Monday it would be November before the vote could take place.

“I think the point moving forward is how you are going to pay for it,” Vickery said. “What we as the taxpayers want to say is that we have a voice in whether we can afford this or not. I think you're doing the fiscally responsible thing by hiring an advisor and seeing what our costs are. I don't know if we are able to afford that or not.”

“This decision is the biggest financial decision we’ve had in the county,” said Pct. 2 Commissioner Dick Martin. “I think it will end up in the voter’s lap and they’ll be able to make the decision.”

Karalei Nunn of 1113 Architects, the firm that’s done the planning work thus far, urged commissioners to move forward in the interest of time and money.

“The last cost estimates we got were a year ago,” she said. “My thinking is it is in your best interest to move forward and hold the contractor to those costs.

“The longer you delay, the more likely you are to see cost increases,” she added.

Pct. 4 Commissioner James Olsen said the question was not about whether to renovate the courthouse or not, it has been about how to fund it.

“Kathy (Hollomon) and I are the only ones who suggested we put money in the budget for courthouse restoration,” he said. There were no funds designated for the project in the 2012-2013 budget passed in September.

“There has been some talk that it’s all been negative, and I think that’s been mis-read,” Olsen added. “We discussed putting money in the budget and it didn’t go any farther than that.

He said the taxpayers could eventually decide on how the county will proceed.

“If we put this out for certificates of obligation, the taxpayers have a choice,” Olsen said. “I respect those who want it and I respect those who don’t want it ... the taxpayers have the ultimate say.”

Several people spoke in favor of the restoration project during the open forum time at the outset of the commissioners meeting.

“The courthouse is a wonderful landmark and needs to be restored,” said Marcus Preston. Delaying the work, he said, means it would only cost more to do someday. “We need to take pride in our landmark to ensure its here for our kids and grandkids.”

“Our courthouse is our symbol,” said Brad Cook. “We’re going to be viewed within the county and the state — I ask you to go forward with this.”

“This is a wonderful edifice,” said Ralph Townes. “We're just gonna kick this can on down the road and we're going to look like Washington, D.C. and not be able to make a decision.”

Formulating a plan with the new financial advisor, preparing for the issuance of bid packages, and hitting the community for donations is next for the project.

Former Main Street director Malinda Veldman will be playing a role in helping the county reach the public with appeals for donations, Davenport said.

      ———

COMMISSIONERS COURT MEETING BRIEFS

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