Bell Sounds from the 20th - What's on the November Ballot?

We are just under three weeks until Election Day!  With all of the talk of federal elections, you are undoubtedly well aware of what is going on at the top of the ticket.  In addition to electing a new president this year, all members of the House of Representatives are up for re-election.  Virginia does NOT have a federal Senate election this year.  Virginians will also have the opportunity to vote on two amendments to the Virginia constitution, which I will talk more about next week.

If you are a voter in Augusta County, you will face another important choice when you go to the polls on November 8.   You will be faced with the decision on whether or not to move the Augusta County Courthouse from downtown Staunton to Verona.  Moving the Courthouse also moves the County seat from Staunton to Verona.

The question on the ballot will read as follows:

  • Shall the Courthouse of Augusta County be removed to the Augusta County Government Center Complex in Verona, Virginia, and shall the Board of Supervisors be permitted to spend $45,000,000.00 therefore?

In full disclosure, I am a resident of Staunton City and as such, I will not have a vote on this issue in November. That being said, I do NOT support moving the courthouse to Verona.

The decision to move the Courthouse is a major decision, and should not be taken lightly.  Current estimates indicate that building a new courthouse would cost about $45 million, as indicated in the ballot question.  While this is no small sum, I fear that the cost could end up being much more than this.  I have enough experience in local government to know that first estimates are not always accurate.  As an example, we can look at Middle River Regional Jail project.  The initial estimate for the cost of the jail was $31.4 millon, the lowest bid received was $36.9 million, and the total final cost was $55.2 million.  Augusta County residents, however, only get one vote on this.  Should the cost rise above the self-imposed cap of $45 million, the county will still be forced to proceed with the new courthouse.

As a state legislature, I also have concerns about this move from a fiscal standpoint.  As you are likely aware, Virginia currently faces a $1.5 billion budget shortfall. It is still too early to know what impact this could have on local governments, but it is very likely that there will be some effect.  While the current plan for financing the Courthouse does NOT include a tax increase, decreased revenue from the state could tie their hands on the matter should citizens vote in favor of the referendum.

There is also a significant historical aspect to this that I believe needs to be considered. A county’s seat resides where its circuit court sits. Therefore, a vote to move the Augusta County courthouse is a vote to move the Augusta County seat, a county seat steeped in history. The current courthouse site has been the center of Augusta County government since 1738, well before the formation of Staunton in 1902 or even the United States in 1776.

This is a big decision for Augusta County residents, and I encourage you to take time to look at both sides of the issue before Election Day.  For more on my reasoning, please view the op-ed I wrote for the News Leader last Sunday.

For more information on this referendum, I encourage you to visit the Augusta County Government’s Website.  You can view their presentation on the Courthouse here.  If you would like information on the campaign to keep the courthouse in Staunton, you can visit keepthecourthouse.org.

Do you like this post?

Be the first to comment