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Published: Wednesday, 10/7/2009

Seneca shortfall may derail courthouse

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

TIFFIN - As courthouse supporters gear up for a fund-raising campaign, Seneca County Commissioners are bracing for another tough year financially.

The county's budget commission yesterday projected county revenue for 2010 at $14 million, or 15 percent less than the $15.7 million projected for 2009. The forecast does not bode well for a nearly $8 million plan to renovate the county's 1884 courthouse.

"I think at this point we are experiencing the pinnacle of the recession so if things improve and the timing of the project corresponds with that improvement, there won't be a problem," Ben Nutter, president of the board of commissioners, said after the meeting. "If things continue to deteriorate, we won't do this project because we won't have the money."

Yesterday, Franklin Conaway, head of the Seneca County Courthouse and Downtown Development Group, told commissioners the group is at work on grant applications, including applications to the Kresge Foundation and the federal Save America's Treasures program.

He said about two dozen people currently are working on the capital campaign, which has a goal of raising at least $1.45 million to restore the clock tower and other architectural features of the downtown landmark.

Additional conceptual drawings are being done to show potential donors what the restoration would look like. Donors also will be able to designate certain items in the courthouse that they would like to pay for, Mr. Conaway said.

"We are also looking at some recognition in the building here and there for grants and donations over a certain size, very tastefully done, if the commissioners agree with that," he said.

Mr. Nutter said he thought that would be appropriate.

Mr. Conaway made a date to meet with commissioners Oct. 22 when his sister, Constance Clark, a professional fund-raiser, will speak to the board. He also plans to announce the names of two local chairmen for the campaign, which will have its official kickoff in November.

Mr. Conaway said his group is preparing the necessary paperwork to tap the $400,000 promised by the Ohio Department of Development for the project.

Mr. Nutter said he is continuing to talk with Gov. Ted Strickland's staff about getting an additional $1.6 million in state funding for the project.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:

jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-724-6129.



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