Spreading a bit of sunshine

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John Logan Brent

County Judge Executive

If you are like me, you are ready for some sunshine. Every time I read Jon Park’s articles in this paper I see the need for a whole lot of sunshine.

In last week’s article he likened the “would be” economic impact for New Castle of the proposed 37,000 square foot, 20 something bathroom, $12 million plus bonded justice center to what is happening in Eminence due to CVS. The projects are apples to oranges.

The millions that are being spent on the CVS, McDonald’s, United Citizen’s Bank Branch, and the newest pharmacy are all private. The $12 plus million cost of the justice center would have been bonded by the county with the payments made by the state. The new businesses in Eminence will pay taxes and create private sector jobs. The new justice center would not pay any taxes and create four additional security jobs that we as taxpayers would pay for. The growth in Eminence is in the center of town, thus existing businesses should benefit from the traffic. The proposed 37,000 square foot justice center came with a land purchase budget of $400,000. How many lots would you have to buy, possibly condemn, (I grimace at that thought) to arrive at the 2 acres needed to build a stand-alone facility? It is unlikely that you could get it done for $400,000. The CVS developers paid over $1.5 million for three acres and mostly empty buildings. Because of the cost of buying occupied buildings in New Castle what likely would have happened is that the facility would have been located just outside of town. The result would have been that foot traffic would leave town, thus causing a potential negative economic impact.

There are a few other important facts about the justice center project that should be mentioned.

One of my problems with the project is that county government currently receives on average $70,000 plus a year from the state for rental, maintenance and utility reimbursement on the existing courthouse. This would end when the courts moved out. Last year an air conditioner went down at a cost of $14,000. The state reimbursed us the full amount. How would Mr. Park propose we pay for those repairs and make up a $70,000 a year hole in the budget? Maybe a tax increase or maybe tear down the 140-year-old county seat? There is a practical solution that provides for the county’s needs and is palatable to the taxpayer – a remodel and addition to the existing courthouse.

I have asked Representative Rand and Senator Hornback to secure funding for this. By staying in the same location, the courthouse continues to be the town center and the foot traffic is maintained. By staying in the same location, the county continues to collect the rent payments that will guarantee our beautiful old courthouse is kept up. Finally a needed remodel and addition will provide a safer environment and reasonable extra space.

Sometimes you have to see things for yourself.

My visit to the newly opened 37,000 sq foot justice center in Owenton was eye opening. There were numerous empty offices. There were also four security guards working on a day with no court. Two were running a metal detector, one watching a camera of an empty parking lot and building, and the other giving me a tour. The old Owen County courthouse is in terrible shape and their judge executive says there is no money to fix it. She tells me the town businesses are mad because the justice center was built out of town. Mr. Park, I invite you and Ricky Doyle and anyone else who feels this is the answer to economic development to visit Owenton and see if it is the boom you are looking for. Furthermore, if you tour that “palace” and feel like it was a fiscally responsible use of tax payer dollars then you are more liberal than I suspect.

Mr. Park at the end of the day your letter wasn’t about economic development, it was about politics.

If you feel like a brand new justice center needs to happen, don’t target me, I don’t control the funding. You need to contact the members of your own party in the Republican controlled Senate who took out the full justice center in the 2012 budget. As of last Friday morning when I went to Frankfort, money for a feasibility study and then either a remodel or new justice center had been taken out of this year’s budget by the Senate. Saturday night I received a text from Rick Rand saying it was back in. We should know sometime late Monday the final status. If the budget passes, I am hopeful that the feasibility study will shortly follow and that it will allow us to remodel and keep our historic old courthouse.