By RICK HAYES email@example.com
---- — MT. VERNON — Public members attending the first in a series of six town hall meetings conducted by the county's Courthouse Renovations Committee soundly rejected any tax increases to pay for the project.
About 26 people attended the meeting Thursday night in the cafeteria of Dodds Grade School, with Committee Chairman Randy Edwards presiding.
In his opening remarks, Edwards told the audience the informational meetings are being conducted to "inform all of you of what's going on at the courthouse and the problems we're experiencing. We don't want the courthouse to be destroyed."
Following an overview of the courthouse maintenance problems and project goals presented by M360 representative Jim Engeman, the meeting was opened up to the floor.
Small business owner and taxpayer James Richard said, "I don't think the people will vote for it, with the high school and other stuff going on. We're getting to the top of the water line with taxes."
When someone asked how the $7.62 million project will be funded, Edwards said the county is looking at different options, although a one-quarter cent sales tax and real estate tax increases are two available options.
"People in this room are looking at alternative methods of funding," said Scott Clifton. "The high school has two pretty good buildings that are ADA approved, the roof doesn't leak and there is ample parking." Clifton added he's heard the city may be interested in one of the buildings for its police department, which would place the city and county police departments closer and result in less transport miles.
Another audience member interjected, "Raising taxes is a bad idea."
Ted Buck noted a new courthouse was built in Anna at a cost of $7 million for 48,000 square feet of space. The Jefferson County Courthouse, built in 1939, has approximately 30,000 square feet.
Engeman pledged to voters the $7.62 million project would include no change orders, and he challenged audience members to check in Herrin where M360 recently built an elementary school addition with no change orders.
Buck questioned Engeman's logic, noting when the new justice center was built the county had over $100,000 in change orders.
"I've never seen an estimate yet that was perfect," Buck said.
Dexter Edmison said his frustration with the project is the right people are not asking questions.
"Instead of a Cadillac for existing systems, have we looked at other systems, and if so, why haven't people asked that question?" Edmison asked, in which Engeman responded that all systems will be examined when the bidding process begins.
Sheriff Roger Mulch, custodian of the courthouse, supported M360's efforts to date.
"I've talked to Rend Lake Plumbing and some people in the Metro-East. Personally, I feel real comfortable with M360, but I think you need to check into these things. Maybe piecing out the work is a good option, but it's probably going to cost more money," he said.
Engeman said the total project cost is a turnkey operation that will include roof repairs, window replacement, limestone skin improvements, HVAC upgrade, electrical distribution upgrade, meeting ADA challenges, lighting fixture upgrades, plumbing upgrades and space programming changes. He said if the project is approved by June 2014, it could be completed within one year.
The next town hall meeting is scheduled at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Waltonville Grade School cafeteria.