There is a storm brewing between Augusta County and the city of Staunton over the historic-but-outdated historic Courthouse located in downtown Staunton. Interestingly, Augusta County should make the decision on what is best for the county, not those outside the county whose defiant opposition has the potential to split the community.
Supervisors voted in May to take the issue to a referendum on the November ballot, leaving the final decision up to Augusta County voters. Wednesday night kicks off the first of five town hall meetings attended by supervisors to provide information to voters and respond to questions. This is an issue that needs to rise above the emotional pleas to save an aging building, and dig into the important issues of safety, bringing the building to code, storage, handicap access, and much more.
Join the supervisors tonight at Wilson Memorial High School in Fishersville at 7:00pm for an update and background on moving the Augusta County Courthouse to the county complex in Verona.
Here is the press release from the county with dates of all town halls:
The Augusta County Board of Supervisors is pleased to announce the dates and times of the upcoming Courthouse Town Hall Meetings. The board will present information and be available for questions concerning the upcoming referendum to move the courthouse to Verona. The Town Hall meetings will give citizens an in depth look at the issues and concerns around the existing Circuit, General District, and Juvenile Domestic Relations courts.
We encourage citizens to attend and ask questions concerning this important decision for the future of the courts in Augusta County.
The Town Hall Meetings will be held at 7:00 PM on the following dates and locations:
September 7 at Wilson High School Auditorium
September 12 at Buffalo Gap High School Auditorium
September 19 at Riverheads High School Auditorium
September 21 at Stuarts Draft High School Auditorium
October 3 at Fort Defiance High School Auditorium
For further information please contact the County Administration office at 540-245-5610.
Pastures District Supervisor Tracy Pyles provided the following thoughts on the issue:
On Nov. 5, 2002, Rockbridge County held a referendum asking the public to decide:
Shall the Courthouse be removed to the northeast corner of Randolph and Nelson Streets in Lexington, Virginia, and shall the Board of Supervisors be permitted to spend $13,543,827 therefore?
And the people responded with a resounding “heck no.”
Surely, that was the end of it. The old courthouse restored to its past glory, the tax rate held steady and everyone living happily ever after must have been the result of the people speaking so loudly and clearly.
Well, maybe not. What actually followed was a new $29 million courthouse and parking garage. In the end the 22,000 citizens of Rockbridge had $21 million of debt and the 7,000 residents of Lexington $8 million. Taxes rose 15 percent from 2002 to 2005. The public was justifiably upset.
Public outrage focused, in part, on the supervisors’ failure to fully demonstrate the problems with the facilities, especially with security. They felt betrayed that their voiced opposition was completely ignored. And they were incredulous in learning, post-election, that what happened, could happen.
Rockbridge voters said “no,” but the problems remained. In response the local judiciary petitioned to have a court-ordered remedy. The authority and responsibility for a new facility was moved from the locally elected to the state appointed. The state’s overseer expected adherence to the Supreme Court’s “Virginia Courthouse Facility Guidelines.” The local governments evaluated restoring the aging structure. But in the final analysis they could not reasonably makeover the old building to meet the Supreme Court’s standards.
Our 1901 Augusta County Courthouse and our General District Courts building (jail cells included) will similarly require extreme makeovers to meet the same Supreme Court strictures. In the end we will be left with spending tens of millions of dollars either in Staunton or Verona. In Verona, we can build less expensively with a greater return on the people’s investment. We will have completed the long-term Board of Supervisors’ goal of consolidation. We will have improved public access, lowered continuing operational costs and given a commercial boost to one of our core communities.
Facts are “neutral,” but the story they tell can be persuasive. The opposition is bothered that we are providing open houses, town hall meetings, talks at service clubs and schools to engage and educate the public. But in good faith, in doing our duty, how can we not?
If the referendum fails, I want to be sure it was because an informed electorate knew the issues and the potential consequences of “No” before voting, not after the fact. Isn’t this just good common sense?
You may email Supervisor Pyles at email@example.com.