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Published: Tuesday, 12/15/2009

Seneca courthouse funding prospects viewed as positive

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

TIFFIN - After a gloomy discussion of 2010 budget requests Monday, Seneca County Commissioner Ben Nutter said he welcomed a chat with the Seneca County Courthouse and Downtown Redevelopment Group.

"I'm sort of pleasantly surprised that I prefer discussing the courthouse to other things we have going on," quipped Mr. Nutter, who once felt strongly that the 1884 courthouse should be razed and replaced with a new building.

Franklin Conaway, head of the courthouse group, said the county now has its "place in line" for a low-interest loan of up to $5 million through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development office. Commissioner Dave Sauber and representatives of the courthouse group met last week with USDA officials at the agency's Findlay office, where Mr. Sauber signed the paperwork for the loan application.

Under a $7.99 million plan to restore the courthouse, the development group would raise at least $1.45 million in grants and donations while the county would contribute $5 million. The balance would be paid with state and court funds.

Mr. Conaway said the group learned Seneca County could qualify for up to $200,000 in grant money from the USDA, which would not have to be repaid. Previously, the group expected to receive a $45,000 grant from the USDA for the courthouse.

While Seneca County has experienced a 10 percent drop in sales tax revenue - its primary source of income - and county offices have been asked to cut their budgets by 10 percent for 2010, Mr. Conaway said it remains the group's goal to keep the project on schedule, which calls for renovation work to begin next year.

Dwight McCabe, a member of the courthouse group, said it will continue to work on ways to move forward with the renovation project without incurring costs for as long as possible. He hopes to have "biddable packages" put together by late fall or early winter 2010. By then, he said, the county should have a better idea of its financial situation and a better idea of what the group has been able to raise for the courthouse project

Mr. Nutter said after the meeting that he appreciates the development group's continued optimism about saving the courthouse. "I think certainly if we are at the turning point of a bad economy, we are going to be positioned to take advantage of some opportunities," he said. "I'm ecstatic they're willing to put that effort and time into it and keep that positive attitude."

Contact Jennifer Feehan

at jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-724-6129.



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