Bath Council weighs courthouse options
A special Bath Town Council meeting was held on Monday, May 14 to discuss whether the town should make a formal request to the Morgan County Commissioners for space in the new courthouse.
Ten citizens, including Delegate Daryl Cowles and former County Commissioner Bob Ford, attended the meeting.
Councilman David Crosby presented two proposals for space requirements in the new courthouse. The first proposal of 2,500 sq. ft. includes both the town and police offices. The estimated cost to the town is between $550,000 and $600,000.
Crosby also submitted a proposal that did not include the police offices for 1,200 sq. ft. at an estimated cost of $250,000 to $300,000. Crosby said the town could raise the money by selling some town property and seeking grants.
Mayor Susan Webster said combining town and county offices would be the best use of taxpayer's dollars, because resources could be shared. Resources that might be shared include courtrooms, meeting rooms, common areas and bathrooms.
Discussion with citizens
Ford said he had been in on earlier discussions by the county commission and the feeling was that including the town in the new courthouse would cause a lot of problems.
"One commissioner said he didn't see how that could work," Ford said.
Webster said an April 4 meeting with Commissioners Glen Stotler and Tommy Swaim was the first time she had heard that in order to get a no-interest loan from the state, the Town of Bath Municipal Center had to be included in the courthouse.
"I do believe that the Town of Bath Council is kind of a football being tossed back and forth between the state and county government," Webster said.
Webster said she had talked to the governor's chief deputy Bill Martin who told her that even if the town were included, there is no guarantee that the county will get a no-interest loan for the building.
Ford said that in a recent conversation, County Commission President Stotler said the town had thrown a wrench into the project.
"If the governor would consider a no-interest loan, why would the county commission not want to embrace the town and build a nice municipal center?" Ford said.
"If they were to go to the governor hand in hand with the town and make a presentation to our governor that makes sense fiscally and makes sense for the people of Morgan County, why would they not want to build the courthouse that they have designed? It's a beautiful structure and a building that everyone in the county could be proud of," Ford said.
Town resident Kim Wills said she couldn't be proud of a new courthouse if the tax burden became an albatross around tax payers' necks.
Another resident, Sandy Kauffman wanted to know if the town is growing or if there are any plans for annexation as a means to increase the tax base.
"One of the things that has happened in this town is that we don't have the human resources, because property after property after property has become businesses or parking lots, taking away homes," Webster said.
Delegate Daryl Cowles said discussions were held with Governor Manchin, but he doesn't believe there were any written communications.
"When the governor came to town, he seemed to draw the line to get the Town of Bath included," Cowles said. "And if somehow he could feel a sense of streamlining government, then he could look favorably on, if nothing else, a better rate on a low interest or a zero interest loan."
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"It was a bit of a surprise that the line was drawn so clearly, so distinctly by the governor," he said.
"As you are aware in Berkeley Springs, you have a lot going on. Right now the water project is going on, the sewer line project is going on, and Coolfont closed. People are out of work and the courthouse burned down. The town is torn up and downtown businesses aren't riding the up curve right now," Cowles said.
"I kind of disagree with the governor and I would prefer not to stall the project right now, because this is stalling the project," he said.
Cowles said the courthouse as planned is already crowded. He said the Sheriff's Department had to be moved out because of lack of space.
Ford disagreed. He said the decision to move the Sheriff's Department was made long before the plans for the new courthouse were drawn up.
Ford said he recently told Stotler that there should be room for town government in the new courthouse because the sheriff was moving to the Rescue Service facility.
Crosby said that in his experience, people that work close to each other have a tendency to cooperate better on certain issues.
"I believe that for a long time here, there has been a kind of disconnect between the county commissioners and the Town of Bath," Crosby said.
"The Town of Bath is a small town, but we also have a big functioning water facility in the county," Crosby said.
"I think there are going to be some serious problems with water, very quickly, more quickly than people realize. And I think we need serious cooperation between the county and the town. And one way to get that cooperation is to be closer, and that is why I am for moving into the courthouse," he said.
Cowles pointed out that the cost per-square-foot to build offices in the courthouse would be double the cost of improving council's present building.
"I think you have other options available to you. So, I would encourage you to find out what your other options are and move in a positive direction," Cowles said.
"We need cooperation with the water situation. We are serving 1,600 customers and that's 10% of the county," said Councilwoman Nancy Harvey.
"We are the economic development hub of Morgan County, the Town of Bath. And we need to be respected for the work we do. Not spoken to like children, not spoken to like dogs. And that is how we have been treated time and time again," Webster said.
Meeting with governor
The Bath Council will meet with Governor Manchin on Thursday, May 17, to discuss the issue. A decision will be made whether to make a formal request for space in the new courthouse at the next council meeting on Monday, May 21.