By David Karaffa
[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.
Now 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.