County officials reviving discussion about historic courthouse

The Brown County Commissioners and Brown County Council are gathering names to form a committee to study what to do about the historic county courthouse, again.

In April 2013, a previous board of commissioners approved a plan to more than triple the size of the current courthouse by adding an addition.

The council and commissioners approved a resolution to cap the cost of the project at $6.5 million, to be paid back through local taxes.

Residents succeeded in a petition and remonstrance, killing that plan for at least a year.

The League of Women Voters hosted forums in 2013 to bring the community together to discuss options and costs.

Elected officials and volunteers also formed a fact-finding committee to help answer questions raised during the remonstrance process; a review was conducted by a historic preservation expert; and a community survey was taken to ask residents if they would support adding on to the historic building, building a new courthouse or making “emergency fixes” only such as security and disability act compliance.

Virtually no decisions have been made since then.

Commissioners President Dave Anderson said he’d promised the League to begin another discussion on this a year ago, and forming a new committee is a way to get something going.

“I am not saying we are going to build a new building at all. I don’t know that we can afford it,” he said at last week’s commissioners meeting. “But we can’t afford to do nothing at all.”

Past problems mentioned related to the 143-year-old building include lack of security, noncompliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act, lack of space and energy inefficiency.

At their March 15 meeting, the commissioners approved spending about $700 to do some tuckpointing on courthouse bricks which are beginning to flake.

Anderson suggested the commissioners and council bring names of possible committee members to their next meetings.

He said he felt like the last courthouse plan had been “decided and done” before people knew much about it, and “that’s a little quicker than we’d be interested in trying to do anything this time.”

One of the questions commissioner Diana Biddle wanted to be answered before the discussion starts is what the county’s debt limit is.

“It doesn’t matter what we can afford,” said council President David Critser from the audience. “It’s what taxpayers are willing to pay is what we’re looking at.”

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Sara Clifford has been raising a family in Brown County since 2005 and leading the Brown County Democrat since late 2009. In addition to editor, she is the beat reporter for town government and writes columns, features and general news stories.