Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

December 10, 2012

Courthouse restoration gets green light now; referendum vote possible

By Bob Belcher
Corsicana Daily Sun

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.

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COMMISSIONERS COURT MEETING BRIEFS

Consent agenda

Minutes of the Dec. 3 court meeting, payment of bills, and minutes of the Nov. 1 Lake Planning and Zoning Commission were approved, along with ratification of several actions of the Lake P&Z.



Burn ban

Commissioners enacted a 30-day burn ban due to dry conditions in the area on the advice of Eric Meyers, county emergency management coordinator. The ban does not include a ban on fireworks, which the court called for extreme caution in using.



Tax, treasurer’s reports accepted

The Tax Assessor/Collector’s report for October and November, and the Treasurer’s report for November, were both read and approved by commissioners.



CASA award to Cotten, commissioners

Jenny Bratton of CASA presented commissioners and Sheriff Les Cotten with plaques of appreciation for 10 years of support of the CASA organization. She also praised the efforts of board member Mike Cox, Chief Deputy of the Navarro County Sheriff’s Department, for his work. Cox is retiring from the department at the end of December.



Herrington awarded plaque

A plaque of appreciation was presented to Kit Herrington by the North Texas Behavioral Health Authority for his work as a member of that organization. Herrington attended his next-to-last commissioners meeting Monday. He’s being replaced on the commissioners court by Jason Grant, and on the Health Authority by Chris Aldama.



Property struck off tax rolls

At the request of Corsicana Mayor Chuck McClanahan, several parcels of property on Hardy Avenue and West 12th Avenue were struck off the tax rolls. The city plans to develop the property on Hardy Avenue as a “Welcome to Corsicana” site, and the 12th Avenue property for a connecting road to the city’s service center.



Computer warranty approved

Extended warranties for computers in the JP Courts were approved. The warranties will be paid for out of the JP Technology fund.



Eminent Domain authority retained

The authority of the county to enforce eminent domain was renewed through action taken by commissioners on Monday. The vote was for renewal of the county’s intent and authority for eminent domain.



NCSO to receive impound fees

Commissioners approved allowing the Navarro County Sheriff’s Office to collect a fee of $10 for vehicles that are impounded to help cover the costs of processing the vehicle.



Dialysis contract approved

Commissioner approved an agreement to provide dialysis treatments for an inmate in the county jail who requires the treatment.



County Auditor’s reports heard

Auditor's reports for August and September were approved by commissioners. Auditor Kathy Hollomon said the fiscal year end should end up with the county about $200,00 ahead of budget on revenue, and about $1 million down on budgeted expenses, showing about $740,000 as a positive year end estimate on the general fund. Final adjustments are needed for the actual figure.



Tax Assessor/Collector examination presented

Hollomon reported to commissioners on an examination of tax assessor/collector's office. She said the office’s internal controls internal controls appear to be very strong, with the review finding only two “non-significant” items that received a recommendation.



Wireless contract approved

Commissioner approved wireless service addendum for the Victim Assistance Coordinator in the District Attorney’s office.



Grant agreement approved

Commissioners approved a grant agreement and award for payment of $5,000 to USDA for flood control for emergency work on a dam in the county.

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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