ROGERS CITY - A Presque Isle County commissioner is holding four informational meetings to inform voters of why she believes the county needs a new courthouse.
Kris Sorgenfrei will hold two meetings in Rogers City, one in Ocqueoc Township and another in Millersburg. She also has handouts listing the various reasons the 130-year-old portion of the building needs to be replaced. Sorgenfrei long has been a vocal proponent of building a new courthouse, and now wants to do her part to support a millage request on the November ballot.
The county is asking voters to approve a 15-year, $4.11 million bond issue to demolish and rebuild the main part of the building, according to ballot language. To repay the debt, the county would levy an average of 0.53 mills, which translates to $26.50 per year for the owner of a home with $50,000 in taxable value. In her handout, Sorgenfrei points out this costs less than going to dinner at a restaurant.
Sorgenfrei said she will explain this and more on Monday and Tuesday at The Center of Rogers City, 211 N. Third St. Monday's meeting is set for 7 p.m., possibly including a courthouse tour afterward. Tuesday's is at 2 p.m., and county Maintenance Supervisor Mike Libby will be there to give tours and talk about the courthouse's chronic repair issues. On Oct. 24, she'll hold a meeting at the Ocqueoc Township Hall, 14101 N. Allis Hwy., at 7 p.m. and another on Oct. 29 at 7 p.m. at the Case Township Community Center, 5561 Main St.
Since taxpayer funds can't be spent to lobby for the millage, Sorgenfrei said she is footing the bill for her efforts. While she believes the millage's cost to taxpayers isn't unreasonably high, she understands winning voter approval is far from a foregone conclusion.
"We can't just put a ballot thing out and expect everybody will vote 'yes,' even though they elected us as commissioners to make the best decisions for the county," she said.
Built in 1883, the wood-framed courthouse is well past its useful life, Sorgenfrei said. In her handout, she points out parts of the foundation is collapsing, the roof leaks, the wiring is insufficient and likely unsafe and some of the drywall is starting to fall. Plus, the building is very inefficient to heat and cool, requiring piecemeal installation of heaters and air conditioners to maintain comfortable temperatures. The third floor once housed county offices, but was declared unsafe by the fire marshal some time ago.
The current set of county commissioners is far from the first to seek voter approval to replace the courthouse, Sorgenfrei said. In 1959, commissioners concluded the same thing. The wood-framed building was 15 years past its useful life at the time.
Commissioners have some idea of what a new building would look like, incorporating the current sheriff's department, annex wing and county jail with new construction, according to renderings the county commissioned. Rehabilitating the Grambau Center, formerly the Rogers City High School, is not a practical solution, as it's more space than the county needs and could cost more than new construction, according to Sorgenfrei's handout.