Commissioners dump plan for new courthouse

Staff Writer
Echo Pilot

Franklin County commissioners announced Tuesday that construction of a new courthouse was no longer under consideration. The $58.4 million project was canned Nov. 16 in light of the economy, hitting taxpayers hard at the local, state and national levels.

Instead of a new judicial center, commissioners Bob Ziobrowski, Bob Thomas and David Keller said they would expand capacity by renovating current properties, the Chambersburg Trust building it purchased for $1.5 million in October, and other downtown buildings near the courthouse in Chambersburg.

Chairman Keller made the following statement explaining the basis for the decision.

“In March 2008, when the commissioners hired Carter Goble Lee to consult with us on the program and facility needs of the county, particularly in the court system, the Franklin County unemployment rate was 3.7 percent.  As of September, it was over twice that amount.

“The average home price has declined by close to 20 percent, leaving many homeowners with little equity, or “under water.”  The number of foreclosures has hit 506 in 2010, a new record.

“The federal government has record deficits, and the new Congress appears committed to reduce spending. This will likely mean less assistance to our state government, which is already operating in the red. We anticipate funding for state-mandated programs will be cut, and grants will be few and far between.”

He continued that the county had furloughed employees, reduced the hours of others, and asked departments to cut expenses and delay capital expenditures.

Keller added that a tax increase would have been necessary to build the center, but residents could not afford it.

“Like many families in Franklin County, in these difficult times, we will make do with what we have, and only buy what we need,” he concluded.

The commissioners ratified agreements to buy the “Harmons Building” at 22-28 N. Main St. for $425,000, and the “Junior Fire Company” building at 31 N. Second St. for $235,000. The acquisitions will be paid for from remaining interest and proceeds from the 2004 county bond issue, and therefore will not result in a tax increase, they said. The staff was directed to find ways to accomodate court needs using existing county facilities and the new properties.

The potential construction of a new courthouse had riled citizens, based on its cost and possible location farther away from Memorial Square. A grassroots organization, Citizens for Responsible Government, led by president Alan Piper, had begun a petition process to bring the matter to a referendum vote in the May primary.