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Published: Tuesday, 8/23/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

Fiscal roadmap urged to pay for courthouse work

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

TIFFIN -- Proponents of saving Seneca County's 1884 courthouse Monday urged commissioners to create a long-term financial plan for the county as a first step to reviving the courthouse project.

Dwight McCabe, a member of the Seneca County Courthouse and Downtown Redevelopment Group, said county commissioners need a long-range financial plan that maps out how it will pay for its operations in light of reduced state funding. The redevelopment group then can help it map out a plan that will allow it to make payments on a low-interest loan to renovate the courthouse -- a considerably less expensive option than demolishing the building and constructing another courthouse, he said.

"Given this significant of an issue, a more formalized financial plan for your future is probably in order," Mr. McCabe told the board.

After agreeing in January to move forward with the nearly $8 million renovation plan, commissioners put the project on hold this year after Gov. John Kasich decided to cut funding to local governments.

All three commissioners have said they believe the project is dead, but Franklin Conaway, who heads the redevelopment group, told them Monday that his group is ready, willing, and able to assist through the development of additional public-private partnerships; some newfound, but unspecified, sources of public funding, and by redefining the scope of the project or doing it in phases to make it financially feasible.

Mr. Conaway reiterated his belief that public-private partnerships like the one Seneca County has with the redevelopment group is the key way local governments are going to get projects done in light of the state's financial situation.

"We don't see any way to solve this problem without an extended series of partnerships, in other words, additional stakeholders and stakeholders doing different things working with you to help make the project happen," Mr. Conaway said.

Still, Commissioner Jeff Wagner said the county does not have the ability to borrow $5 million or even $3 million, period.

"Our answer to that is through partnership agreements we may be able to offset that inability," Mr. Conaway said. "That's why we're here [Monday] to start a dialogue that will last for several weeks until we see if there's a way to solve the problem."

"If you can come in here with a check for $5 million I think we can work something out," Mr. Wagner said.

"That's unlikely," Mr. Conaway replied.

Mr. Wagner, who twice in the past has made motions to demolish the 1884 courthouse, said after the meeting that he was serious about finding a benefactor willing to write a $5 million check. He said he sees no other way for the project to happen, and short of that, believes the building should be demolished.

Both Commissioners Ben Nutter and Dave Sauber said the county was in no position to borrow money to renovate the courthouse but they said they are willing to listen to the group's ideas.

"I agree we can't afford it but we also can't afford to keep kicking it down the road," Mr. Sauber said, adding that he was disturbed by figures Mr. McCabe provided that showed the debt service to demolish the courthouse and build new would be considerably higher five years from now compared to renovating it now.

Mr. Conaway left the meeting with a positive outlook.

"The main thing is to keep the dialogue going until an absolute final determination can be made one way or another," he said afterward. "We are going to continue developing our partnerships and bring more information to the commissioners as soon as it is available."

Contact Jennifer Feehan at: jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-724-6129.



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