By Lynn R. Mitchell
Remember the children’s song called, “This is the Song That Never Ends,” that was made famous by the late Shari Lewis’ puppet characters, Lamb Chop and Charlie Horse?
The words go like this: “This is the song that doesn’t end, yes it goes on and on my friend. Some people started singing it not knowing what it was, and they’ll continue singing it forever just because this is the song that doesn’t end” … and it goes on and on and on.
That’s what the Augusta County Courthouse issue feels like especially after Wednesday night’s surprising vote by supervisors to enact a five-month negotiating period with Staunton, thereby ending any hopes for a referendum in 2015.
It’s the issue that never ends. It began 25 years ago when Augusta County bought the Smith Transfer complex in Verona with plans to consolidate all of the county government departments in one location. The purpose was for the convenience of county citizens with plenty of parking and plenty of space to expand. The original goal included the court system.
As the years went by, each department was eventually set up in the Government Center or within close proximity (the regional jail and sheriff’s office are both within a block) … except the courts complex.
Throughout it all, the historic 1901 Augusta County courthouse in downtown Staunton deteriorated from use and old age. Band aid repairs and patches held it together even as we entered the new millennium with increased needs for computers and internet access as well as storage, work space, handicap access, and parking.
When Augusta supervisors decided it may be more feasible to build a new, updated court building by moving it to Verona, Circuit Court Judge Victor Ludwig gave an August 31 deadline to have a proposal on board; that is, architectural information and costs associated with moving the three courts. The county hired Moseley Architects who came up with a plan and a $44 million price tag, and presented it in July to supervisors and the public.
All roads seemed to be leading to a November 2015 referendum on the ballot to allow Augusta County residents to decide the issue for themselves.
That is, until Wednesday when everything came to a screeching halt. Reading news accounts, it sounded as if at least one or two supervisors had no idea of the change of direction before the meeting, unaware of the possibility of dropping the referendum vote and instead voting on the five-month study.
Because the county was pushing for architectural plans and cost estimates by the mandated August 31 deadline, were there expenses that will now be null and void? In other words, wasted? What increased construction costs would be applicable by delaying from an earlier start?
So just as this issue appeared to have an end or, at least, a giant leap forward, it stopped. What will we know five months from now when the December 1 deadline rolls around? We may very well learn that the original plans from 25 years ago to consolidate all Augusta County services in Verona will never be a reality. And we may see that the citizens of Augusta County will have no voice in decisions made about their courthouse. At that point, some may wonder if this will continue to be the issue that never ends.