By RICK HAYES firstname.lastname@example.org
---- — MT. VERNON — Jefferson County Board Chairman Robert White has responded to a letter prepared by three officeholders and distributed to Jefferson County Board members.
Portions of the letter were published in Tuesday's newspaper, and White indicated that no money has been spent on the project nor have any funds been set aside for courthouse renovations.
He also stated in his response that county officials plan to recall most, if not all employees recently laid off.
"We have been working on this project for the past 18 months and have slowed down at times to address changing financial conditions. Due to information being presented in the wrong context, there are a lot of legitimate concerns based on wrong information," White begins. "We have not spent any money on this project. The $77,000 walk away fee is for any work done by a general contractor that is not M360. To date, that is not the case. As to the vote of obligating funds for phase 1 or 2, this has not occurred either."
White continued, "My comment during the vote to proceed towards phase 1 was that we need to take this to the people of Jefferson County for input? Why? The only available revenue to address any issues in the courthouse is the excess funds in the public safety sales tax account. The reason there are extra funds in this account was due to the former chairman pushing through a vote to refinance the original bonds for an additional 10 years at an additional cost of $5 million. While having a current balance of $1.8 million in this account is a great position, it is evident the amount needed to pay those bonds exceeds the annual payment of $940,000 per year."
White said the courthouse is in "dire need of attention now" that will be fully outlined during the 3 p.m. Aug. 12 public input meeting scheduled at the Rolland W. Lewis Community Building.
"The idea of utilizing excess funds to start the first step of this process is just that, an idea, and needs public input. So far, I have heard some ideas, including the use of these funds for every repair to the jail, to the question of why ADA is not addressed in phase 1. Regardless of the action that occurs as a result of the public input or the citizens that have communicated via phone, email and regular mail, the public will be fully informed as to the reason why I have continued to claim that we have serious and pressing concerns at the courthouse," White stated, adding further action on the building will have to be decided by the voters of the county.
"The only potential action that can be taken now, with public input, is leveraging the excess money in the public safety tax account. Paying the bonds off early would be a great idea, however, the earliest we can begin that process would be 2020. By then we will likely have up to $3 million in excess money in that account. As for using these funds to restore the seven laid off deputies would also be a question for the public."
White said county officials have begun working on next year's budget, and "plan to restore most, if not all, positions that have been cut this year with current revenues."
He added, "Ultimately, the loss of revenue that caused all of the layoffs and the current condition of the courthouse is the responsibility of one elected official, and it's not the County Board chairman. My goal here is to raise awareness of the cost, right now, to restore the courthouse in a proactive way and to provide information concerning the cost of waiting."
White said those attending the public meeting will learn "how quickly the costs will rise if this can continues to be kicked down the road or we are forced to address it as a result of catastrophic failure."
White agreed with the officeholders who stated the courthouse belongs to taxpayers and the public safety tax is "your money," adding he is looking forward to hearing what taxpayers want the county to do in the immediate future.