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Morgan County group protests courthouse plan

May 09, 2007|by TRISH RUDDER

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.VA. - A group of Morgan County residents armed with a petition and a new design has formed in opposition to the $12.7 million plan to rebuild the Morgan County Courthouse.

A petition with about 600 signatures that requests a formal hearing on the courthouse project and a public vote has been sent to West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin.

Kim Wills, spokeswoman for Citizens Against the $12.7 Million Courthouse, said the group formed because of the new building's expense to taxpayers. The Morgan County Commission voted to raise taxes to pay for a $4 million revenue bond to fund part of the rebuilding.

"We want a scaled-down version of the courthouse plan that would pay tribute to the history of our county," Wills said. "We wish to not have a large $8 million debt for not only our present citizens, but for decades to come to pay for the present design."

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The county has about $4 million in insurance from the fire that destroyed the courthouse in August.

The petition was given to the Morgan County Commission on Friday, prompting Commissioner Brenda Hutchinson to question the timing of the effort.

"I wish I could have heard this at our public meetings," she said.

Two public meetings were held in January and March.

Morgan County resident Patricia Porter answered Friday that the public did not know at that time that taxes would be raised to rebuild the courthouse.

Someone at the meeting suggested that War Memorial Hospital could be used for the courthouse after the new hospital is built.

Hutchinson said it could be two to three years before the new hospital is built.

"Common sense tells us the longer we wait, the more it will cost," she said.

"Think forward and what you want to leave for your children. We need to put a courthouse on the corner," Hutchinson said.

Commission president Glen Stotler said if the county cannot find funding, "we will fall back on other options, like the hospital, (but) I believe that possibly we may get some state assistance."

"We need to have a united front for our governor because we won't get any money if we keep squabbling," Hutchinson said.

"We are looking at all options and if we have to go to other options, we will have another public hearing," Stotler said. "Nothing is a done deal."

Town of Bath officials are working on a plan to present to the county on how they could lease space in the new courthouse. Bath Mayor Susan Webster said Monday night that Manchin is in favor of the two governments sharing the same building.

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