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Manchin: Courthouse should house county and town government

April 12, 2007|by TRISH RUDDER

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.VA. - Plans for rebuilding the Morgan County Courthouse are on hold until decisions can be made regarding who will occupy the new structure.

The old courthouse, which was built in 1908, was destroyed by fire last August.

Gov. Joe Manchin met with the Morgan County Commission on Wednesday, and after seeing plans for the three-story, 40,000 square-foot building, told the commissioners that "new public policy is to group county and municipal government offices together."

"We want you to structure something that works for everybody," Manchin said. "Fairmont (W.Va.) has everyone under one roof and everyone shares the costs. It's been that way for 20 years and it has worked," he said.

Manchin said he talked with Town of Bath Mayor Susan J. Webster, who wants the town to be part of the new courthouse structure, and Morgan County Commissioner Glen Stotler said the commissioners met with Bath officials last week to discuss the concept.

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"You need to combine the Town of Bath and the county, and you should take a look at trying to do that," Manchin said.

Stotler said the new building will not house the sheriff's law enforcement division, and there would be no room for the Bath Police Department.

Stotler said he offered the town the use of the magistrate courtroom when it was not in use. The courtroom will be on the second floor of the new building.

Town of Bath council member Garnet Marsh said, "We didn't come to any agreement."

Stotler answered that in order to accommodate the town's request, "we need funding from the Town of Bath."

He said he also offered other options to the town. He said after the new hospital is built, the old hospital building would be available to them, as well as the senior center building.

The cost of the new courthouse is expected to be more than $12 million, Stotler said, and insurance covered about $4 million. The commission recently passed a 9 percent property tax increase for fiscal year 2007-08 to pay for a 30-year, $4 million revenue bond.

"We are about $4 million or $5 million short," Stotler said.

Manchin told the commissioners that no funding is dedicated to county and town government buildings. He said he did not want to "start a precedent of bailing out the courthouse" by granting funds from the W.Va. Legislature to rebuild it.

He asked the commissioners to work with the state to find a more competitive interest rate for the 30-year, $4 million revenue bond that begins in July.

Stotler said, "$8 million is what we have to build. If the state can give us a better deal, we want to investigate that."

State Sen. Walt Helmick, D-Pocahontas, Del. Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan, and former Del. Charles Trump attended the gathering.

Helmick said the courthouse issue has been discussed at the state level and officials have looked at ways to help.

"In the near future, we would like to help you out," Helmick said.

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