MT. VERNON — Town hall meetings will be held at five locations in Jefferson County to educate the public about needed courthouse repairs.
A special committee appointed by County Board Chairman Robert White conducted their first public meeting on Monday night in the County Board room and concluded the five town hall meetings would be held in the communities of Waltonville and Woodlawn, at grade schools in Dix (Rome) and southeast Mt. Vernon (Dodds), at Webber High School and the Rolland W. Lewis Community Building. The meetings will be held at 7 p.m. when they can be scheduled in the next three months.
While there were differing opinions on the function of the committee, Committee Chairman Randy Edwards simply stated, “We want to inform the public.” He added, “I am the people’s representative, and that’s what I want us to do.” Member Jeremy Hall, who resigned from the board last week, indicated he thinks the committee should explain the issue and “listen, more than talk.” Edwards urged Hall to remain on the committee, although Hall declined the offer. Hall said he will participate in the Town Hall meetings, although he also declined to lead any of the public forums. His resignation was held until the next full board meeting on Oct. 28.
The committee also decided to conduct at least two tours of the courthouse facilities, at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., respectively, on a Saturday to be coordinated through Sheriff Roger Mulch.
Hall, Edwards and James Malone were committee members in attendance. Tommy Hayes was absent. Other board members attending were: Chairman White, John Keele, Jeff Williams and Jim Laird. A representative from M360 — the company which proposed $7.8 million in courthouse repairs — was also in attendance.
“There are two well known commodities in this community: trust and honesty. You have one hell of a hurdle to climb,” said former County Board member Dexter Edmison during the public input portion of the meeting. “There is no trust right now, and that goes back to the jail. This county teetered on the brink of bankruptcy. You’ve got to build trust, and you build it through honor and respect.”
Chairman White said the committee is not advocating for a tax increase — although he admitted that is one of five options the County Board can consider for paying for courthouse renovations.
“I don’t think there’s a whole lot of concern among the public about what the courthouse problems are and can see firsthand for themselves. I think the issue is what do you do and when do you do it?” asked Bob Shaw. Shaw suggested the county look at cutting expenses, although White clarified the county has cut expenses deeply.
“We’ve already been through that. That’s what we’re dealing with right now with the reduction of losing revenues from ICE detainees. We gutted everywhere,” White said.
Sheriff Roger Mulch said through conversations with Advanced Corrections Health Care in recent days, the county has learned their budget has been trimmed from $300,000 to $160,000 for next fiscal year. Still, the county has a budget shortfall of $300,000 for next fiscal year and over $400,000 in unpaid claims.
Malone noted during the meeting county officials have not ignored the courthouse the past 20 years, indicating a new boiler has been installed, along with new doors and windows, and some window air conditioners have been replaced.
Edmison was adamant if the roof was fixed it would take away 95 percent of the county’s water issues at the courthouse. “In my opinion, it’s the first thing you need to address,” he said. Mulch concurred with that statement after being asked to respond by White.
While the M360 representative could not provide estimates on roof or window projects singularly, he indicated he could provide those estimates at the County Board’s request. M360 has given the Board a $4.6 million estimate for completion of Phase I of the construction project — approved by the full Board at its July 15 meeting.
M360 was asked to provide those estimates and heating and air conditioning systems costs at the next Services Committee meeting on Oct. 16. M360 will also be included in the town hall meetings, it was reported.