PI puts breaks on new courthouse plans

ROGERS CITY – Presque Isle County commissioners are putting their plans for a new courthouse on hold after discovering they won’t be able to finance it as they originally thought.

During a conference call Friday with Pat Coleman and Lisa Wrate of U.P. Engineers and Architects, commissioners asked the two to halt their work on a design for the new building. Some of the design aspects were starting to look cost-prohibitive. Board Chairman Carl Altman said that after working on the county budget for the next fiscal year, the county won’t have enough for a large down payment for a new building, or to make payments on the debt.

Commissioners have been pushing for some time to replace the county building, part of which dates back to 1881. After weighing their financing options, they opted to pay for the project without asking county taxpayers to approve a millage.

Now, commissioners agree the project can’t go ahead without a millage. After Coleman asked them what had changed to cause this doubt, Altman explained the county’s financial situation.

“When we went over our budget, we realized that some of the revenue we anticipated is not there, and we had quite a bit of difficulty just trying to balance our budget with the expenditures and revenue,” he said.

Commissioners were hoping to make a down payment of $750,000 to $1 million on any new courthouse, which could cost around $4 million, Altman said. The county has hundreds of thousands of dollars set aside in a courthouse construction fund, along with the county’s general fund balance and some investments.

Instead, the county faces increased costs and declining revenues, Vice Chairman Bob Schell said. The budget will be stretched too tight to start such a large construction project.

During the conference call, Schell and Commissioner Mike Darga balked about spending money on plans for a building the county can’t afford to build. Commissioner Kris Sorgenfrei pointed out the need for the building, and Altman said it would be hard to ask taxpayers for a millage without knowing how much a new courthouse would cost.

Wrate told commissioners the original concept of building a second story over the jail would be complicated and expensive. After discussing an alternate plan, commissioners asked Wrate and Coleman to stop their design work and look at an older set of plans. They’ll send commissioners an estimate of how much it would cost to update these plans.

Commissioners were looking to replace the courthouse in 2002 when they hired another firm to draw up plans. These older drawings need updating, both to make them comply with building codes and to factor in the loss of office space. Three county offices have been moved across the street to the Nowicki Building since then.

Coleman told commissioners his firm is about 30 percent through the process of designing a new courthouse, and would have to bill the county for around $56,000 of work. This is part of the $160,000 contract commissioners approved in March for the new plans.

“It’s not too late to consider a more cost-effective option,” Coleman said.

Jordan Travis can be reached via email at jtravis@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5688. Follow Jordan on Twitter @jt_alpenanews. Read his blog, A Snowball’s Chance, at www.thealpenanews.com.