ROGERS CITY - In November, Presque Isle County Board of Commissioners will ask voters to approve a millage to finance a new courthouse.
At their meeting Friday, commissioners approved a resolution stating the county's intent to borrow up to $4.11 million to demolish the old courthouse, build a new one in its place and renovate newer attached buildings. Before they can, they need voter approval to levy an estimated average of 0.53 mills to repay the bond issue, which could take a maximum of 15 years. If passed, the money would allow commissioners to deal with the county's aging main building for good.
"I hope the public will realize how desperately we do need upgrades to the building," Vice Chairman Bob Schell said. "We've closed the third floor of the old courthouse due to the unsafe conditions that employees were being requested to work under due to lack of fire escape provisions. Hopefully, anyone that gets a chance to review and come in and look at the old building, I think they can see the need."
Commissioners initially had hoped the county would be able to afford a new courthouse without asking taxpayers to help foot the bill. The county had put aside money for some time to make a sizable down payment on the project and make payments out of the county's general fund for a number of years, Board Chairman Carl Altman said at a previous meeting. Those hopes were dashed as commissioners began to explore their financial situation more closely, and again when they passed a very tight budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year.
Now, voters will decide whether the county can borrow money by issuing bonds to replace its courthouse, the main part of which dates from 1883. Commissioners have spent money on temporary fixes for leaking roofs and other problems, and recently approved spending $56,000 for new courthouse drawings. It's part of a contract with U.P. Engineers & Architects the board approved in March, then called to a halt as commissioners consider their financing options.
If approved, taxpayers would pay an estimated average of 53 cents for every $1,000 of taxable property values, according to the ballot language. That figures to $26.50 annually for a house with a taxable value of $50,000.
Commissioner Steve Lang said the millage would cover payments for the new courthouse, along with financing and bond counsel fees. The courthouse project itself would be limited to $4 million, although the county would borrow a little more to cover those additional costs.
"Now that we know how much we have, we can work with our architect and plan, but this is only if this passes," he said.
Commissioner Kris Sorgenfrei stressed the need to inform voters of the need for a new courthouse, as she had in the past.
"The next thing we need to figure out is what kind of a campaign we can run so people understand this," she said. "I don't think we can just pass this resolution and wait until Nov. 5."
Schell later pointed out the county cannot spend taxpayer money to promote the millage.
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