To The Editor:
It’s disappointing when citizens of any community have to take time out of their work and daily lives to organize against what many would define as unfortunate decision making. This is exactly what happened in Vermillion in the last few weeks. Citizens organized and worked as the Save Our Historic Courthouse Committee for a number of reasons, including concerns of county ‘wants versus needs’ on the courthouse issue.
What elected officials and their planning committee have given the public is a cloudy plan with limited transparency of what they have wanted for some time. We recently learned that a critical decision was made by them back in August of 2019. One thing is now clear: without public meetings the decision-makers voted then to build an all new complex from scratch, at an undisclosed location at a price tag of $41 million dollars, which may or may not cover the real costs, given inflation and other considerations. Instead of taxing for a figure out of the sky... to be spent on what has been characterized as a mystery building at a mystery location ... (we’ve seen no real building plans or site information), we believe voting NO will finally give county residents an opportunity to have their say on what our real needs are.
In our opinion:
• We need to enhance and continue to use our county government center because we own the land and the infrastructure and because we know our courthouse is restorable. Stewardship and preservation is important, especially in historic Vermillion.
• We need to take another run at a plan that solves current challenges with the jail situation by using reasonable solutions rather than overbuilding. Plans started out with an 88 bed facility (now lowered to 44 beds which is twice what we currently use).
• We need to stop the talk about how terrible things are at the courthouse. It needs work, but there are multiple regional examples of how best to restore and improve historic buildings and offices like those we own and currently use. The jail condition and other examples of neglect have been used to ramp up a large and expensive strategy to build all new.
• We need a plan that has a realistic and transparent price tag. We shouldn’t accept extravagant and large square-footage projections based on vague speculation of future needs.
• We need to understand and agree that two proposed large courtrooms is excessive, especially when we know we average only two jury trials a year.
• We need to get a grip on how citizens would pay for an additional $6.2 million dollar obligation which the City of Vermillion would be faced with for its share of an enforcement center.
• We need to understand what the proposed bond issue means to us financially as taxpayers.
To the last point, the Clay County Auditor has released hypothetical debt service data that says a $1.9 million annual levy for the bonds, each year for the next 30 years, would be more than a one-third increase in the total current county property tax levy of $5.5 million a year. The total principal and interest, based on their bond attorney’s assumptions, would be $55.4 million. That’s enough of a reason for us to say, “Go back to the drawing board for more realistic solutions.” We will vote No on the bond issue on June 8. We encourage you to do the same.
Patrick and Donna Gross