Category Archives: Shenandoah Valley Politics

Tracy Pyles Will Chair Augusta County Supervisors, Terry Kelley Vice Chair

tracy-pyles-1

Chairman Tracy Pyles (photo by Lynn R. Mitchell)

In tonight’s organizational meeting of the Augusta County Board of Supervisors, board veteran Tracy Pyles (I-Pastures) was elected chairman for 2017. Terry Kelley (R-Beverley Manor), in his first term on the board, was elected as vice chairman.

The Board of Supervisors are elected officials that represent the people of Augusta County.  They are the governing board that make the decisions that influences our local government and economy. Augusta County is divided into seven Districts.  The Supervisor elected is that District’s representative.  Supervisors are elected to staggered four year terms.

Meetings: The public is welcome to attend.

  • Staff Briefing: The Augusta County Board of Supervisors meets on the Monday before the fourth Wednesday of each month at 1:30 P.M. in the Board Room of the Augusta County Government Center.
  • Board of Supervisors: The Board of Supervisors meetings are held on the second and fourth Wednesday at 7:00 P.M. in the Board Room of the Augusta County Government Center.

The board, in addition to Pyles and Kelley, is made up of Gerald Garber (R-Middle River), Marshall Pattie (I-North River), Mike Shull (R-Riverheads), Wendell Coleman (Wayne), and Carolyn Bragg (R-South River).

Tagged

Augusta Courthouse Works Independently of Stauton

augusta-county-courthouse-6

Clerk of Court Carol Brydge posted Thursday on her Facebook page:

Over the next couple of days I will address a few bits of information that have been stated to the public regarding the referendum to move the County Seat to Verona, which is on the ballot for November 8.

My reason? I don’t want anyone to come to me after the vote and state, “If you knew, why didn’t you speak up?” This vote is YOUR decision based on the facts that YOU have gleaned from all presentations made.

Because I have worked with him on this issue for a long time, I know that Judge Victor Ludwig is prohibited by Judicial Ethical Canons from making public statements on political issues, and it is frustrating to me that, because of the ethical standards set for Judges, he cannot state his views on the Courthouse. He is the ONLY Judge who has been directly involved in addressing the inadequacies of the Augusta County Circuit Court and General District Courthouse. He is the ONLY Judge who has presided as Judge on a regular basis in the 1901 building AND served as an elected Judge in the District Courts (1953) building. He is the ONLY Judge who has worked with the County and City over the past five years to find a solution to the inadequacy of the Courthouse facilities, and he is the ONLY Judge who is directly responsible to ensure that the facilities are adequate for the Augusta County Courts.

Combining or consolidating the Courts (that is, having a single Court system serve both jurisdictions) has been explored by the City and County, but they could not agree how to accomplish it, and there is no indication now that the City of Staunton will have any interest in reopening negotiations if the Referendum fails.

Others have suggested that the Courts of Augusta County and the City of Staunton already operate on a “shared basis.” The fact is that they do not, nor have they ever done so. Each Circuit Court is required to have its own clerk, to maintain separate records, and to conduct all of its business independently of the other.

I cannot recall a single instance of a County Circuit case being tried in the City’s Courtroom or the reverse, and certainly there is no combining of records. If the County Circuit Court were to attempt to use a Courtroom in the City Courthouse on a regular basis, there would be significant challenges. Reserving a City Courtroom for cases would require almost constant communication between the Judges and their staffs because scheduling, continuing, and removing cases from the calendar is a fluid procedure that occurs throughout the day; conflicts would be inevitable.

Once a case was scheduled to be heard in the City Courthouse, we would have to assign Augusta County Deputies to the City building to provide security for trials (taking them away from the County building); frequently one of our deputy clerks would have to go there for the hearings and would be using equipment unfamiliar to them; and certainly litigants, witnesses and jurors would understandably be confused by being instructed to appear in the City Courthouse for a County case. Nearly every day a citizen walks into one of the Courthouses only to find that he/she is in the wrong Court.

Frequently the County Government Center receptionist calls my Clerk’s office to inquire if we are waiting on an individual to probate an estate because the individual thought the Courthouse was in the County. If there is confusion now between the Courts, shared Courts would compound that confusion.
The Juvenile and Domestic Relations Courts are not combined. One Clerk serves both of these Courts; however, each Court has separate staff, maintains separate records, and the appeals from each jurisdiction go to the separate Circuit Courts for the City and County.

Carol Brydge has worked in the Augusta County court system for almost three decades. She currently serves as the Clerk of Court.

Tagged

$60,000 Used Against Augusta County On Courthouse Issue?

yes-sign-1

Augusta County resident Becci Harmon recently wrote a letter to the editor asking what could be bought with $60,000, the amount of money raised by the two Staunton organizations that are urging people to vote “no” and not move the Augusta County Courthouse from downtown Staunton to the Government Center in Verona.

Ms. Harmon wrote, “What could you buy with $60,000? The Augusta Citizens Coalition and Common Sense Courthouse Solutions has raised just under that amount so far in an effort to stop the move of the Augusta County Courthouse from downtown Staunton to Verona. That’s more than the average local taxpayer’s salary, and an awful lot of money that will be geared toward advertising in an effort to persuade us to keep giving our money to the city of Staunton.”

Think about it. The citizens of Augusta County who could very well be the David in this David and Goliath match, are facing Staunton opposition made up of very powerful people with deep pockets: lawyers, retired judges, businessmen, the city newspaper — all with far more financial resources than the average county citizen. Ms. Harmon notes:

The top donors include William Stuart Moffett, Rudolph Bumgardner, Julian Moffett, HC Stuart Cochran and Lee Stuart Cochran. These family names have circulated within the judicial system for decades. One can’t help but wonder how their ancestors would respond to moving the courts with the condition they are in today, and knowing these courts do not meet the current needs in regards to space, safety and accessibility for the elderly and handicapped. Who knew then how much the need for court functions would grow?

Among the $5,000 donors are Richard Cullen, who is originally from Staunton. He is chairman and senior Litigation Attorney for McGuire Woods, a Richmond-based law firm.

Others of the small group of donors include Allen Dahl, Elk Trucking Co., Presley Moore, Arbor Life Professional Tree Care, Paul Vames, Tom Sheets, Franklin Root, David Didawick, William Saxman, Herbert Godschalk, and H&R Contractors janitorial services. The majority of these wealthy donors are not Augusta County residents. Most own businesses in the city, so of course they want us to keep pouring money into Staunton pockets.

Safety is a number one reason to build a new Courthouse, as Ms. Harmon shares: “Every day, officers escort inmates from Middle River Regional Jail and Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Detention Center. Every day, on this five-mile stretch of road, we place our officers lives on the line. Inmates’ lives are at risk as well.  One bad decision could easily cost lives. Safety within the courthouses puts everyone in those buildings at risk.”

Others whose lives could be in danger are judges, juries, witnesses, and the public.

Ms. Harmon closes by adding, “The time has come for us and our hard earned dollars to benefit our pockets. So many of our government businesses are already located in Verona. Augusta County citizens, please vote ‘yes’ on moving the court.”

Tuesday, November 8, on the ballot. #VoteYES

What you can do to learn more:                                   

For more information, see:

Letters to the Editor in favor of moving Courthouse to Verona:

#VoteYES on November 8.

Tagged

Augusta County Courthouse: In Response to Dickie Bell’s Criticism

augusta-county-courthouse-7

Delegate Dickie Bell (R-20th House) recently penned an op-ed in the Staunton News Leader about the upcoming Augusta County Courthouse referendum where he questioned if Augusta County supervisors had done their homework on the issue that will be on the November 8 ballot.

Anyone who has talked with Augusta County officials knows those issues have been studied by supervisors for a decade, not to mention the plan to consolidate county services in Verona has been on the table for 25 years.

The October 12 Board of Supervisors meeting addressed some of what Bell brought up, misinformation that has been disseminated by the two Staunton-based organizations made up of powerful lawyers, judges, and businessmen as well as Richmond-based opponents, that are against moving the court facilities to Verona.

Though he represents a portion of Augusta County, Bell lives in the city and cannot vote for the Courthouse Referendum on November 8. Indeed, his voter base is 46 percent in Augusta County and 18 percent in Staunton, and in the last election Augusta County voters backed him 84 percent to Staunton’s 66 percent. By taking sides, he may have risked alienating Augusta County voters as well as supervisors and court staff whom he insulted with the “homework” comment.

The reality is county leaders have researched for years and weighed the costs as well as very important and necessary safety factors to determine that the need for a new courthouse is the most prudent use of tax money rather than continuing to pour funds into the undersized and outdated downtown courthouse. If the referendum passes on November 8, will Bell have to cover his tracks with his county voters?

Bell questioned three points in his op-ed.

His first point:

Population projections used in the plan are deeply flawed. The plan uses population projections from 2010 that are proving to be highly inaccurate now, let alone two decades into the future.

Often used as a talking point by those against moving the Courthouse, the “population projection” argument claimed an extra court room was not necessary at the proposed Verona location. This, however, was addressed by county administrator Tim Fitzgerald at the October 12 meeting. The county looked at the Supreme Court case load data for 2015 and updated population projections — figures that will not be officially published until December — but it provided a fair growth record for future projections. The figures remained relevant and on track for a new Courthouse’s need for an extra courtroom to cover future growth.

His second point:

Based on my previous experience with the Middle River Regional Jail project, first estimates are often the least accurate.

This red herring comment ignores the fact the Middle River Regional Jail was a joint effort of the three localities — Staunton, Waynesboro, and Augusta County — with 50 percent of the funding from the state. It was not an “Augusta County” project … it was a collective effort of all … not to mention Bell’s criticism would apply to the hastily gathered Staunton Courthouse plans.

His third point:

The county has failed at using Supreme Court guidelines as a benchmark that supports moving. Guidelines call for the formation of a planning oversight committee and a formal needs assessment, both elements which are not included in the county’s plan. It also discusses examining the feasibility of renovation and considering the historical and architectural value of the existing courthouse, both elements which have seemingly been ignored.

This is yet another talking point of the group opposed to moving the Courthouse. The proposed Courthouse in Verona is 100 percent compliant with Supreme Court guidelines, while there is a question of whether the hastily proposed Staunton are compliant.  As to the “committee” approach, that was the route used in 2001 in Rockbridge County when their Supervisors had a $13 million plan rejected by the voters.  The “committee” has assigned and forced a $29 million Courthouse structure that has resulted in Lexington and Rockbridge incurring serious fiscal stress issues.

Bell went on to inaccurately say, “Adding to that, the current courthouse will cost county taxpayers no matter the outcome of the referendum. If it fails, the county will need to maintain the building, which it has neglected to do for decades. If it passes, the county will need to either repurpose, still requiring significant updates and maintenance, or sell, likely at a huge loss due to the aforementioned neglect. Faced with that choice, the most cost-effective choice from the start would have been to maintain, renovate (at a far lesser cost than building anew), and continue using the building as intended.”

Yet another of the anti side’s talking points, let’s look at the falseness of this. Millions of dollars have been spent on each building, most notably the renovation of the upstairs to restore the 1901 building to its past grandeur.  But the limitations presented in the existing size and configuration of the building make security and work space needs unattainable no matter how beautifully the building is restored.

Building a new Courthouse does not mean the current 1901 building would be abandoned. The county is exploring many options including one that uses the General District Court as an alternative to funding new space for Social Services needs.  The Circuit Court building will need far less cost to make it usable as a public building rather than as a Courthouse, and gives the County a building for a variety of uses that will benefit Staunton and the County.

When he lumps together the Courthouse as being the same as the County Seat, Delegate Bell appears to lack an understanding of how the Courthouse became known as the “County Seat.” Originally, Courthouses were all-purpose buildings housing County government (administration, tax collection, sheriff’s office). However, that is no longer the case and all of these functions now reside in Verona, making it the de facto County Seat.  Only the Courthouse keeps Augusta from having a consolidated County Seat. By bringing together all county services at the Government Center, Augusta is fulfilling its goal to make government as efficient and accessible as possible for its citizens, a vision that has been in the making 25 years.

Taking sides and disseminating misleading information is unfair to constituents who want to see the Courthouse moved to the county, and it is unfair trying to tell Augusta County how to spend their money or second-guess the decisions of local officials. There are plenty of financial problems in Richmond to keep this state representative busy.

What you can do to learn more:                                   

For more information, see:

Letters to the Editor in favor of moving Courthouse to Verona:

#VoteYES on November 8.

Tagged

New Augusta Courthouse Would Help County Residents

augusta-county-courthouse-5
Proposed Augusta County Courthouse

augusta-county-courthouse-8

Did you know the estimated cost to building the new Courts Complex in Verona is $45 million? The estimated cost to building the same structure in Staunton is $59 million. Both buildings are for all three courts – Circuit, General District, and Juvenile Domestic Relations.

augusta-county-courthouse-9

augusta-county-courthouse-10

augusta-county-courthouse-11

Did you know relocating the courts to Verona takes care of current and future needs of all three courts and court functions?

Did you know that the $9.5 million 2012 Frazier estimate you hear about is only to remodel the 1901 Circuit Court Building? It does not include General District or Juvenile Domestic Relations Court needs, nor does it adequately address Circuit Court needs.

Did you know determining the size of the Court Complex doesn’t involve just the number of courtrooms? Between the existing and proposed, there is only one additional courtroom (General District). Space need is also about enough work space for staff, for file storage, for handicapped accessibility, and most importantly for security.

Do you know the functions of the Circuit Court Clerk? Duties include court proceedings and jury management; issuance of marriage licenses, concealed carry permits, passports, game licenses, and trade names; management land records, court records, historical records, and election ballots; probate of estates; and constitution officer, and notary oaths. Last year, 27,761 citizens passed through the metal detector at the Circuit Courthouse. That averages to more than 100 people per day!

Did you know that the following archive documents are stored in the basement of the existing Circuit Courthouse? Judgements, inquests, land, personal property, wills, and marriage records are some of the documents stored in the basement. Space is a significant need for the functions of the Circuit Court Clerk so that records can be managed and maintained appropriately. After all, there are documents dating back to the 1700s.

Do you know why 118,170 square feet of space are needed in the new Courts Complex? The existing buildings provide 67,965 square feet, and the needs assessment indicated 89,712 square feet are needed now. A new courts facility will provide for current needs and future expansions on land owned by the County.

Did you know in both Courts Buildings combined, 1,410 square feet of space exists for security purposes? Moseley’s “Needs Assessment” indicates 3,625 square feet of space is needed. Currently, inmates, the public, and staff utilize the same hallways. Victims, witnesses and their families share the same waiting rooms. There is inadequate space at the entrances. There is no sally port for the Circuit Courthouse and no secure sally port for the General District Building. The new Courts facility proposes 3,625 square feet that meet security needs for now and the future.

Check out the Augusta County Facebook page daily for updates on the courthouse, meetings, and other events in the county.

Augusta County’s historic 1901 courthouse in downtown Staunton is no longer suitable for conducting business in today’s court system on a number of levels — safety, security, space limitations, no parking, no handicap parking, limited handicap access, court buildings separated by a main city street, dwindling storage, and other issues of concern. For more background, see YES, Move the Courthouse Part 1.

What you can do to learn more:                                   
  • Visit the courthouse on Saturday, October 22, between 10am-2pm for a tour of the two current courthouses, the Circuit Courthouse and District Courts Building located on opposite sides of the street, to see conditions of the facilities. If moved to Verona, all three courts and court functions would be located in one building.  Courts include Circuit, General District, and Juvenile Domestic Relations.  Court functions include Clerk’s Offices, Commonwealth Attorney, Victim Witness, Court Services Unit, Magistrate, and Court Security.
  • Contact your supervisor to ask questions.
  • Visit the Augusta County website for information.

For more information, see:

Letters to the Editor in favor of moving Courthouse to Verona:

#VoteYES

Tagged

LTE: Mature Decision Needed On Augusta County Courthouse

augusta-county-courthouse-7

[Augusta County supervisors will hold an open house and townhall meeting on Thursday, November 3, from 4-7:00 pm, in the Smith Room at the Government Center in Verona.]

Dear Editor:

I own a 1972 Oldsmobile 98 Regency. It is a beautiful mammoth of a vehicle that was the pinnacle of engineering, safety, and luxury when it was sold new. The vehicle was originally my great-grandfather’s police car. It raced down the road with its 455 eight cylinder carbureted GM motor catching motorists as they speed by. However, as time wore on the Olds hung up its siren and CB radio, it just wasn’t able to keep pace with all the safety and technology that was coming along in vehicles, not to mention police cars. It has been handed down in my family over the years and is currently mine. It has been well maintained and these days it spends its time as a Sunday driver. I take it out on the open road and enjoy the ride, remembering all the times I rode in it with my Dad. I have a wonderful nostalgia for that car.

I feel the very same for the Augusta County Courthouse building. It is a beautiful piece of history that I hope will live on as a part of the Staunton City skyline. However, on November 8th, a mature decision needs to be made when it comes to the function of that building.

Since 1901 the historic courthouse has provided an honorable service, but as with all things its useful time has come to an end. With wisdom and forethought we must acknowledge that all things have a finite usefulness. The current historic building lacks central air conditioning, lacks many of the current security requirements necessary and prudent in today’s courts, it doesn’t have easy handicap access, has little parking, and doesn’t allow for the privacy and security necessary for clients, witnesses, prisoners, judges, staff, and the jury. Just as the decision was made to retire my great- grandfather’s police car, the decision needs to be made to retire the current historic building as a courthouse. It doesn’t mean the end of the building, just its function of our courts.

I am proud of the Augusta County Board of Supervisors and their vision for the future for the Augusta County court system. The new proposed complex not only addresses the issues of the historic building, but also the many issues that also exist with the court building across the street from the historic courthouse. The new complex will serve the citizens far into the future with the ever expanding needs of our county.

I would ask all voters to vote YES and trust the local leaders you elected to make the best decision with the funds you send to the county in taxes.

As a former supervisor on the board, I can say that I have nothing but the utmost respect for the folks who currently serve, no matter how they feel about this issue. I know their motivations come from a genuine desire to serve the men and women they represent. I can say without hesitation that the decisions they have to make preoccupy their minds to such an extent that they research and study issues with veracity before coming to a decision.

The decision to move forward with the referendum that is now before you didn’t come lightly and didn’t come quickly. I wish to extend my deepest thanks and appreciation for their service.

Please take the time to study this issue for yourself and make a mature and informed decision.

David A. Karaffa

Background on the Augusta County Courthouse issue:

Tagged

Augusta County Townhall Meeting On Courthouse Issue To Be Held At Government Center

bos-5

Augusta County’s supervisors, looking to be as accessible as possible to the public, have announced an open house about the Courthouse issue to be held on Thursday, November 3, from 4-7:00pm, in the Smith Room of the Government Center in Verona.

Courthouse blueprints and plans will be available for observation, and supervisors will be on hand to answer questions about this very important issue that will be on the ballot on November 8.

The schedule for November 8 allows citizens to stop by as convenient, offering an opportunity for those who could not make it to the townhalls that were held around the county in September and early October. For those who are not able to attend, feel free to contact your supervisor with questions.

4:00 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. One on One
5:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. Presentation
6:30 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. Questions and Answers

augusta-county-courthouse-2

Background:

Augusta County’s historic 1901 courthouse in downtown Staunton is no longer suitable for conducting business in today’s court system on a number of levels — safety, security, space limitations, no parking, no handicap parking, limited handicap access, court buildings separated by a main city street, dwindling storage, and other issues of concern. For more background, see YES, Move the Courthouse Part 1.
Parking: There is no parking at the current location (the closest parking is available a block away at the New Street parking garage for a charge). Ample free parking would be available at the new Courthouse. Space limitations make it impossible to add parking to the downtown location.
Handicapped Parking: There is no handicapped parking at the current location. At the new Courthouse, handicapped parking would be available and convenient.
Handicapped Access: In the old Courthouse, those who cannot climb stairs (the only courtrooms are on the second floor) must ride a chair-lift mounted on the stair rail, both humiliating and embarrassing, because there is no space to add an elevator to the building.
Find more information about other safety and security concerns in this PDF Presentation.
Augusta County is up against powerful lawyers, judges, businessmen, and a state delegate in Staunton who want the Courthouse to remain downtown, and who have two groups working with them along with voices outside the area who have mounted an effort to achieve that goal with printed “No” signs and pamphlets.
What you can do to learn more:                                   
  • Visit the courthouse on Saturday, October 22, and Saturday, October 29, between 10am-2:00pm, for a tour of the two current courthouses, the Circuit Courthouse and District Courts Building which are located on opposite sides of the street, to see conditions of the facilities. If moved to Verona, all three courts and court functions would be located in one building.  Courts include Circuit, General District, and Juvenile Domestic Relations.  Court functions include Clerk’s Offices, Commonwealth Attorney, Victim Witness, Court Services Unit, Magistrate, and Court Security.
  • PDF Presentation full of information.
  • Contact your supervisor to ask questions.
  • Visit the Augusta County website for information.

For more information, see:

Tagged ,

Vote YES To Move Augusta County Courthouse to Verona

augusta-county-courthouse-8

Did you know the estimated cost to building the new Courts Complex in Verona is $45 million? The estimated cost to building the same structure in Staunton is $59 million. Both buildings are for all three courts – Circuit, General District, and Juvenile Domestic Relations.

augusta-county-courthouse-9

augusta-county-courthouse-10

augusta-county-courthouse-11

Did you know relocating the courts to Verona takes care of current and future needs of all three courts and court functions?

Did you know that the $9.5 million 2012 Frazier estimate you hear about is only to remodel the 1901 Circuit Court Building? It does not include General District or Juvenile Domestic Relations Court needs, nor does it adequately address Circuit Court needs.

Did you know determining the size of the Court Complex doesn’t involve just the number of courtrooms? Between the existing and proposed, there is only one additional courtroom (General District). Space need is also about enough work space for staff, for file storage, for handicapped accessibility, and most importantly for security.

Do you know the functions of the Circuit Court Clerk? Duties include court proceedings and jury management; issuance of marriage licenses, concealed carry permits, passports, game licenses, and trade names; management land records, court records, historical records, and election ballots; probate of estates; and constitution officer, and notary oaths. Last year, 27,761 citizens passed through the metal detector at the Circuit Courthouse. That averages to more than 100 people per day!

Did you know that the following archive documents are stored in the basement of the existing Circuit Courthouse? Judgements, inquests, land, personal property, wills, and marriage records are some of the documents stored in the basement. Space is a significant need for the functions of the Circuit Court Clerk so that records can be managed and maintained appropriately. After all, there are documents dating back to the 1700s.

Do you know why 118,170 square feet of space are needed in the new Courts Complex? The existing buildings provide 67,965 square feet, and the needs assessment indicated 89,712 square feet are needed now. A new courts facility will provide for current needs and future expansions on land owned by the County.

Did you know in both Courts Buildings combined, 1,410 square feet of space exists for security purposes? Moseley’s “Needs Assessment” indicates 3,625 square feet of space is needed. Currently, inmates, the public, and staff utilize the same hallways. Victims, witnesses and their families share the same waiting rooms. There is inadequate space at the entrances. There is no sally port for the Circuit Courthouse and no secure sally port for the General District Building. The new Courts facility proposes 3,625 square feet that meet security needs for now and the future.

Check out the Augusta County Facebook page daily for updates on the courthouse, meetings, and other events in the county.

Augusta County’s historic 1901 courthouse in downtown Staunton is no longer suitable for conducting business in today’s court system on a number of levels — safety, security, space limitations, no parking, no handicap parking, limited handicap access, court buildings separated by a main city street, dwindling storage, and other issues of concern. For more background, see YES, Move the Courthouse Part 1.

What you can do to learn more:                                   
  • Visit the courthouse on Saturday, October 22, between 10am-2pm for a tour of the two current courthouses, the Circuit Courthouse and District Courts Building located on opposite sides of the street, to see conditions of the facilities. If moved to Verona, all three courts and court functions would be located in one building.  Courts include Circuit, General District, and Juvenile Domestic Relations.  Court functions include Clerk’s Offices, Commonwealth Attorney, Victim Witness, Court Services Unit, Magistrate, and Court Security.
  • Contact your supervisor to ask questions.
  • Visit the Augusta County website for information.

For more information, see:

#VoteYES

Tagged ,

YES, Move Augusta County Courthouse Part 4: Frequently Asked Questions

augusta-county-courthouse-2
Proposed plan from Moseley Architects for new courthouse at Augusta County Government Center in Verona.
Augusta County’s historic 1901 courthouse in downtown Staunton is no longer suitable for conducting business in today’s court system on a number of levels — safety, security, space limitations, no parking, no handicap parking, limited handicap access, court buildings separated by a main city street, dwindling storage, and other issues of concern. For more background, see YES, Move the Courthouse Part 1.
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions, and the response from Augusta County.
Is building the courts complex going to take away tax dollars for schools and emergency services?

Operating funding for schools and emergency services will not be cut from the budget to build the new courts complex.

What will be cut from the budget to compensate paying for the courts complex?

Operating funding will not be cut from the budget to pay for the courts complex. The project is being bonded.

Why is building a new courts complex a priority?

The Circuit Court Judge has made it clear to the County that the Judge is charged by statute to achieve safe and adequate facilities for the courts. All three courts; Circuit, General District and Juvenile Domestic Relations are not safe and adequate for current and future needs. The courts complex in Verona addresses all three courts.

Why is renovation not the solution?

Renovating the Circuit Courthouse is a short term solution. It does not adequately address parking issues or meet current Building Code requirements. Waivers would be needed for Building Code and Americans with Disability Act requirements to renovate the Circuit Courthouse. Adequate security cannot meet the Virginia Courthouse Guidelines. Renovating also does not meet the space needed for current and future courtroom needs and related services. Renovating the Circuit Courthouse also does not address the needs for General District and Juvenile Domestic Relations Courts.

Why is shared (County/Staunton) not the solution?

Sharing or consolidating courts will include three separate buildings. There would be duplication of services such as transportation, security, and Clerk of Court services if the courts are shared. Operating three buildings versus one will not provide operational savings as compared to a new efficient building. Citizens may be confused on which building to enter for the service or the court they are seeking. Parking will remain an issue. State approval would be needed to consolidate as well.

Why is the existing buildings not sufficient?

The existing Circuit Courthouse and District Courts Building does not meet current space needs, does not adequately address handicapped accessibility needs, has electrical and mechanical issues, is not efficient, and does not allow for expansion.

Where did the projections come from used to determine court’s needs?

Statistical data from Weldon Cooper Data Center was used to determine the number of case filing trends and to project the number of courtrooms and space needed now and in the next twenty years. Also considered was current and future use, functions and types of space. The Virginia Courthouse Facility Guidelines were used as well.

Why do we need a 120,000 square foot new building?

Currently both the Circuit Courthouse and District Courts Building provides 67,965 square feet of space. The needs assessment indicated 89,712 square feet of space is needed now. The twenty year planning horizon indicates 120,007 square feet of space will be needed.

Why is the District Courts Building being considered in the solution?

The Circuit Court Judge has made it clear to the County that the Judge is charged by statute to achieve safe and adequate facilities for the courts. All three courts; Circuit, General District and Juvenile Domestic Relations are not safe and adequate for current and future needs. The courts complex in Verona addresses all three courts.

What is included in the $45,000,000 estimate?

The $45,000,000 includes construction of a 120,000 square foot courts complex, road improvements to Dick Huff Lane, security, furniture allowance, data and telephone allowance and moving expenses.

What will happen to the old Circuit Courthouse?

The 1901 Circuit Courthouse is a magnificent building! It is part of the County and Staunton’s history. It can remain a part of Staunton’s culture. We are seeking ideas on how it can be preserved and what uses would be appropriate to downtown Staunton. There are no plans to board up the windows and abandon the building.

What are the current security issues and can it be addressed in the existing buildings?

Victims, witnesses, the public and staff cannot be adequately separated to accommodate security and safety needs. Prisoners are not safely transported and parking is not secure. Very limited security improvements can be made in both the Circuit and District Courts Buildings and none will address all the issues.

If the referendum fails, what’s next?

If the referendum fails, moving the County Seat cannot be re-considered for ten years.

The County Circuit Court Judge could rule that the existing Court facilities are not “secure, in repair, or otherwise sufficient” which could require the facilities be repaired or replaced in the City of Staunton.

The cost of building the County Courts system in Staunton will be significantly more than the cost to build in Verona.

Why have the courts buildings not been properly maintained?

Routine maintenance has been and continues to be performed. Routine maintenance includes maintaining electrical and mechanical and plumbing systems. Items such as flooring, painting and structural work are planned accordingly when needed. Renovations have also occurred in both buildings to give more space and replace outdated systems. With the age of the buildings and limited space, now is the time considering a new facility.

What you can do to learn more:                                   
  • Visit the courthouse on Saturday, October 22, between 10am-2pm for a tour of the two current courthouses, the Circuit Courthouse and District Courts Building located on opposite sides of the street, to see conditions of the facilities. If moved to Verona, all three courts and court functions would be located in one building.  Courts include Circuit, General District, and Juvenile Domestic Relations.  Court functions include Clerk’s Offices, Commonwealth Attorney, Victim Witness, Court Services Unit, Magistrate, and Court Security.
  • Contact your supervisor to ask questions.
  • Visit the Augusta County website for information.

For more information, see:

Tagged ,

YES, Move the Courthouse Part 3: Will Taxes Be Raised For a New Courthouse?

augusta-county-courthouse-2
Proposed plan from Moseley Architects for new courthouse at Augusta County Government Center in Verona.
Augusta County’s historic 1901 courthouse in downtown Staunton is no longer suitable for conducting business in today’s court system on a number of levels — safety, security, space limitations, no parking, no handicap parking, limited handicap access, court buildings separated by a main city street, dwindling storage, and other issues of concern. For more background, see YES, Move the Courthouse Part 1.
A frequently asked question is, “Will the County raise taxes for a new courts complex?”
The Augusta County website notes that additional tax increases are not planned in order to fund the Courthouse in Verona. As with current school construction, projects have been planned for and budgeted accordingly without a tax increase.
The County will borrow funds to pay for the Courts Complex. Payments will be made over a period of years using funds set aside from the sale of surplus property and the 2015 real estate tax increase. A portion of future growth in real estate values will be dedicated to funding the project, until such a time the debt is fully funded.
However, if the referendum fails and the County is required to build the same $59.5 million building in Staunton, taxes may be raised. Only $45,000,000 is being budgeted for and planned.

What you can do to learn more:

  • Visit the courthouse on Saturday, October 22, between 10am-2pm for a tour of the two current courthouses, the Circuit Courthouse and District Courts Building located on opposite sides of the street, to see conditions of the facilities. If moved to Verona, all three courts and court functions would be located in one building.  Courts include Circuit, General District, and Juvenile Domestic Relations.  Court functions include Clerk’s Offices, Commonwealth Attorney, Victim Witness, Court Services Unit, Magistrate, and Court Security.
  • Contact your supervisor to ask questions.
  • Visit the Augusta County website for information.
  • Visit the Augusta County Facebook page.

For more information, see also:

Tagged ,

YES, Move the Augusta County Courthouse Part 2: Funding a New Courthouse

augusta-county-courthouse-2Proposed plan from Moseley Architects for new courthouse at Augusta County Government Center in Verona.

Augusta County’s historic 1901 courthouse in downtown Staunton is no longer suitable for conducting business in today’s court system on a number of levels — safety, security, space limitations, no parking, no handicap parking, limited handicap access, court buildings separated by a main city street, dwindling storage, and other issues of concern. For more background, see YES, Move the Courthouse Part 1.

A frequently-asked question is, “How will the county pay for a new courthouse?”

According to the Augusta County website, the new Courthouse in Verona is estimated to cost $45,000,000.

Additional tax increases are not planned in order to fund the courthouse in Verona.  As with current school construction, projects have been planned for and budgeted accordingly without a tax increase.

The county will borrow funds to pay for the Court Complex. Payments will be made over a period of years, using funds set aside from the sale of surplus property and the 2015 real estate tax increase. A portion of future growth in real estate values will be dedicated to funding the project, until such a time as the debt is fully funded.

Did you know that Virginia and U.S. law require Courts to provide safe, secure, and adequate facilities? If not provided, the Judge can direct the County to provide and the County to pay the cost. That cost could be different from the proposed $45,000,000 in Verona. It happened in neighboring Rockbridge County in 2002.

What you can do to learn more:                                   

  • Visit the courthouse on Saturday, October 22, between 10am-2pm for a tour of the two current courthouses, the Circuit Courthouse and District Courts Building located on opposite sides of the street, to see conditions of the facilities. If moved to Verona, all three courts and court functions would be located in one building.  Courts include Circuit, General District, and Juvenile Domestic Relations.  Court functions include Clerk’s Offices, Commonwealth Attorney, Victim Witness, Court Services Unit, Magistrate, and Court Security.
  • Contact your supervisor to ask questions.
  • Visit the Augusta County website for information.
  • Visit the Augusta County Facebook page.

For more information, see also:

Cross-posted at Bearing Drift

Tagged ,

YES, Move the Courthouse Part 1 — Monday’s Town Hall Meeting

augusta-county-courthouse-2

Proposed plan for Augusta County Courthouse at the Government Center Complex.

Monday night, October 3, marked the final town hall meeting hosted by Augusta County supervisors concerning the historic downtown Augusta County Courthouse, and the issue of whether to build a new facility at the Government Center Complex in Verona. (For more information visit the Augusta County website.)

bos-1After attending the first town hall meeting at Wilson High School in September, it was good to see that Monday night’s crowd was twice the size of the first, but still only about 60 people were present. This is an issue that has raised passions on both sides, and some attendees became verbally confrontational with supervisors.

Everyone loves the historic 1901 courthouse that is on the National Register of Historic Places with its Scales of Justice on the domed roof. Its place on the national register pretty much assures it will not be razed. Rockbridge County sold their old courthouse to Washington & Lee who made it into offices. Augusta County’s old courthouse would be perfect for a museum, historic society offices, or an art gallery. But it is no longer suitable for conducting business in today’s court system on a number of levels — safety, security, space limitations, no parking, no handicap parking, limited handicap access, building separated by a main city street, and other issues of concern.

In the end, it is the county’s decision. Not Staunton. Not the lawyers who have offices downtown. It is entirely the decision of the residents of Augusta County as to what to do with their courthouse.

If you missed Monday’s meeting, you missed an informational presentation by county administrator Tim Fitzgerald, Clerk of Court Carol Brydge, Sheriff Donald Smith, and five of the seven supervisors — Chairman Carolyn Bragg (South River District), Gerald Garber (Middle River District), Terry Kelley (Beverley Manor District), Mike Shull (Riverheads District), and my supervisor Tracy Pyles (Pastures District). Six of the supervisors are in favor of moving the courthouse. Only one is against.

Continue reading

Tagged ,

Notes From Augusta County Courthouse Meeting

Here are some of my rough notes while live-Facebooking Monday night’s Augusta County Courthouse meeting. There will be more information to come….

County administrator Tim Fitzgerald is presenting the facts about the courthouse remaining in downtown versus moving it to the Augusta County Government Center in the county as planned 20-30 years ago.

– Plenty of room at the Government Center for building (no need to purchase land), free parking outside the door (no need to park in parking deck a block away, handicapped parking will be available that is currently unavailable at downtown location), and located with all the other county services.

– If the new courthouse is voted down, it cannot be voted on again for 10 years, as per state law.

Continue reading

Tagged ,

There’s More to the Courthouse Issue Than Many Realize

David KaraffaBy David Karaffa
Guest Post

[Editor’s Note: The ongoing Augusta County courthouse issue is once again in the news. The Staunton News Leader’s articles (see County approves courthouse referendum petition, Staunton responds to county courthouse decision, County approves courthouse referendum petition, and New courthouse would not serve the greater good) are helpful for background in the ongoing discussion as well as those from LynnRMitchell.com writers (see Augusta County Courthouse: ‘This is the song that doesn’t end‘ and Augusta County Courthouse moving forward, Staunton counters and The Augusta County Courthouse decision and Augusta County: Renovate courthouse in Staunton or build new one in county?) in this two-year-old issue. Former supervisor David Karaffa, who was very involved in the courthouse issue, provides background in a less-confined way than when he was on the board. Originally published May 16, 2016.]

I have been reading the online News Leader and other news sources as the Augusta County Courthouse issue heats up again and I feel the need to tell the truth about the discussions that have been taking place for years between Staunton and Augusta County about it.

First, the News Leader is incredibly biased (if you didn’t know that already). When I was in my first or second year on the Augusta County Board of Supervisors, we opened a dialog with Staunton to discuss the overwhelming issues we were having with the courts. We also reminded the Staunton City Council of the many promises and deals that were made in good faith to keep the facilities up and running and in Staunton at a shared expense.

The Board of Supervisors, the courts, and the citizens of Augusta kept up their end of the deal for decades (yes — decades; you read that right), and the Staunton City Council never moved forward on their end of the deal. Shameful. Now, of course, over the decades many of the people on the council and board have moved on, but some are still there. So that is some deep background.

Augusta County CourthouseNow for the more recent history that needs to be told….

As I said before, I was on the Board when we reminded Staunton of its past agreements with the county. We invited Staunton into the discussion as we moved forward with Frazier & Associates on what the cost would be to renovate the court building to provide another couple of decades of use. The numbers were out of this world high and still didn’t address all the issues. The Board of Supervisors gave all the information to the Staunton City Council and they basically said, “It’s not our problem.” (Thanks for that, by the way.)

At that point and after many discussions the idea was dusted off that the courthouse should be and was always planned to move to Verona when the county’s other services moved there (novel idea!). So the board hired an architect to look into what it would cost to move and build a new courthouse that could last for some 75 years (remember our current one has been in use for more than 110 years).

A plan was delivered. It was also shared with Staunton, and another round of talks with them about other options took place.

Staunton then hired Frazier & Associates to come up with another plan (yes, the same firm the county hired). Another plan was delivered, more tailored towards Staunton’s requests. We all got to see it and it included a SKYBRIDGE! Wait … what? A SKYBRIDGE that was going to cost like a MILLION dollars or something (I cannot remember the exact figure but it was out there; like, in orbit out there).

Staunton City Council’s Miss Dull said she couldn’t justify spending Staunton taxpayer money on the Augusta County Courthouse, but she was sure willing to spend it on a SKYBRIDGE! Then it involved demo of other buildings downtown at even more cost. Needless to say, it was not a plan that the Board of Supervisors could sign on to and not a good fiscal plan for the county taxpayers.

Now we have arrived at the current plot. The county exhaustively has discussed this with the City of Staunton, an agreement cannot be made because all the options to staying downtown don’t meet all the needs, and the costs are way too high for the short amount of time that it could all be jury rigged (pun intended) to work in downtown Staunton.

The best option is to build a new courthouse in Verona. It will save a ton of money in the long run, be better access for the public, safer for the citizens with more secure transfer of prisoners, and consolidate services for Augusta County residents all in one place, and you don’t have to pay to park. Ah! That’s nice.

Now it’s up to the citizens of Augusta to answer the Board of Supervisors’ question: Would you like a new courthouse in Verona?

Just one more thought. The News Leader opinion piece that basically demoralized every citizen of Augusta County was absolutely inappropriate and rude toward you all. I was very disappointed. Funny thing is, if Staunton City Council had just kept up their end of the deal DECADES ago we wouldn’t be talking about this at all. Just goes to show you, keep your promises…. (Drop the mic.)


David Karaffa is a former Augusta County supervisor for the Beverley Manor District (2011-15) who now lives with his three daughters in Palm Coast, Florida.

Tagged , ,

Augusta County residents: First Courthouse informational town hall is tonight

Augusta County Courthouse

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.

Continue reading

Tagged
SBC Voices

Southern Baptist News & Opinion

The WordPress.com Blog

The latest news on WordPress.com and the WordPress community.

LynnRMitchell.com

Virginia politics and more