Yes, there’s a problem at the courthouse

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 24, 2004

LINDEN – The recent move to pass a new one-cent sales tax for Marengo County in the legislature was “something we were forced to do,” said Marengo County Commissioner George Baldwin. “…This is long over due.”

The condition of the county courthouse in particular concerns Baldwin. He has served on the commission for eight years and during his tenure the commission hasn’t had enough money to repair the problems at the courthouse.

The heating and cooling system, the roof and the electrical system need to be upgraded, he said.

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“Nobody wanted to bite the bullet,” Baldwin said, to secure revenue to fix the problems, which kept rolling on from year to year. “…Nobody wants to pay new taxes (but)…you can’t live off a 40-year-old budget.”

“We want to make the county seat look as good as possible,” Baldwin said.

The total renovation of the county courthouse is “the first project we’ve got to do,” once the sales tax is enacted, said commissioner John Crawford Jr. The roof on both the courthouse and the annex are in bad shape. “We’re catching water in five gallon buckets.”

There needs to be a new electrical system and lighting, a sprinkler system for both buildings, and exit signs. There also needs to be an elevator in the annex building for it to be handicapped accessible, Crawford said.

J.K. Marlowe maintains the courthouse’s heating and cooling system, installed in the 60’s, Crawford said. “He can’t find the parts.” The commission has had two surveys done of the courthouse problems. The most recent survey of the plumbing prompted as estimate of over $2 million, said county administrator Dawn Quinney.

Circuit Clerk Rusty Nichols is certainly in favor of a new electrical system for the courthouse. A fire in one of the Circuit Clerk’s offices several months ago was caused by an overloaded extension cord. There are power strips and extensions all over the office. “There are not enough outlets,” Nichols said.

The last courthouse burned down on Oct. 14, 1965 on the spot where the current building stands. The cause of that fire was considered an electrical problem. “It will be a whole lot easier to fix an electrical problem than it is to build a new courthouse,” Nichols said.

If nothing is done to renovate the courthouse, you might as well “tear the building down,” Crawford said.

When he ran for the commission seat Crawford said he was “totally against the sales tax.” However, after serving time on the commission, “everything hit me.” All the needs of the county justified the tax. “This is something that had to be done.”