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A plan-and-a-half for Jefferson government

May 09, 2004|by Earl Jackson

To the editor:

The Jefferson County Commission is looking well into the future and considering four plans to provide for county offices through the year 2025. The commission held a public hearing last month to solicit input from the citizens.

The Board of Education has also expressed an interest in relocating to a more adequate facility.

Heretofore, the commission seemed reluctant to accept that the space needs of county government may have outgrown downtown Charles Town. Those county offices in downtown Charles Town and Ranson are not easily accessible to the citizens. Other county offices are scattered willy-nilly around the county.

Modifications to existing structures downtown have proven to be very expensive and will soon result in offices that are inadequate and unable to provide for future growth. Thus far the efforts of the commission to remain in downtown Charles Town have contributed to the inefficient administration of the county, reduced the City of Charles Town's tax base, and negated any opportunity for the City to become economically viable.

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Plan One would relocate all county offices from downtown Charles Town to a Jefferson County governmental center. All county offices would eventually be located in one convenient and accessible location with plenty of parking. It would probably take 20 years to construct all those facilities.

Plans Two, Three and Four are variations of a plan to keep all county offices in downtown Charles Town. For simplification, I will lump those plans together as Plan Two.

The estimated cost of Plan One is $27 million ($31 million less $4 million that the commission would recoup from the sale of its downtown buildings).

The estimated cost of Plan Two is $30 million.

It is interesting to note that a major cost of Plan Two is that associated with construction of a parking garage at $12,000 per parking space. Whereas each parking space for Plan One would only cost $1,200.

It soon became apparent that neither Plan One nor Plan Two will fulfill the interests of those advocating one plan or the other.

Those advocating Plan One envision tourism as the best option to ensure the economic viability of downtown Charles Town. The City of Charles Town cannot compete as a center of commerce with the surrounding shopping centers.

The City of Charles Town has great potential to become of tourist destination. The Court House figured significantly in the John Brown episode. Frequent performances of Julia Davis' "The Anvil" could be staged in the courtroom of the circuit court. Proximate are several Washington family homes and beautiful neighborhoods of restored houses.

Although millions of tourists come to this area, few visit Charles Town. Why? Where would they park their cars? Not to mention buses. There is little or no infrastructure available to support a tourist industry because the county government has a death grip on that infrastructure.

Those advocating Plan One envision converting the courthouse block into a tourist welcoming center. Extensive landscaping, a bandstand and dedicated parking for buses would bring forth buses laden with tourists eager to spend their money in downtown Charles Town. The relocation of all county offices away from downtown would also free up parking for tourists.

The advocates of Plan Two feel that the removal of the county offices from downtown Charles Town would be an economic disaster. The main economic impact cited was that there would be no county employees to eat lunch downtown. Under Plan Two the economic future of Charles Town apparently depends on the lunch trade?

The primary advocates of keeping the county offices downtown (Plan Two) were lawyers. They have very valid points. All of their offices are now in downtown Charles Town. It would be very expensive and inconvenient should the county government be relocated out of downtown.

I would suggest that the Commission consider Plan One And A Half.

Keep the circuit clerk, circuit judge(s), court reporter, magistrate court, probation, prosecuting attorney and other related judicial activities in downtown Charles Town. The circuit court would remain on the second floor of the courthouse.

Eventually remove all other county offices to the Bardane Industrial Park area.

Develop the courthouse block to support the tourist industry. The Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce, Convention and Visitors Bureau, Historical Society and similar groups would be urged to occupy the first floor of the courthouse.

Earl Jackson
Charles Town, W.Va.

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