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Lawmakers advance bill to aid courthouse restoration, but money is missing

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Nearly every county seat in Indiana could benefit from a bill promoting historic courthouse renovation and maintenance projects.

Only problem is, when lawmakers passed the legislation through the Senate they stripped out the money for it.

Senate Bill 474 proposed to create a program through which counties with courthouses on the National Historic Register – that’s all but eight of Indiana’s 92 – could receive low-interest loans for preservation or restoration. The bill passed the Senate without a vote against it after the $2 million to fund the loans was axed in a Senate committee.
 

courthouse-monroe-15col.jpg The Monroe County Courthouse, above, and the Parke County Courthouse, below, are among 84 in Indiana listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (File Photos)

“The rotating funds portion has been taken out,” said a disappointed Franklin Circuit Judge J. Steven Cox, who hopes lawmakers in the House Ways and Means Committee hear the bill and put the money back in.

Cox was a member of the Courthouse Preservation Advisory Commission appointed in 2008 by Gov. Mitch Daniels to advise county officials on preserving the state’s historic courthouses. The panel led by then-Chief Justice Randall Shepard undertook extensive surveys of county officials, judges and those entrusted with the care of the buildings.


courthouse-parke-1col.jpg

It also came up with a list of proposals for lawmakers, including the revolving loan fund.

“One of the things we found in the survey was maybe 25 percent or so had not had major renovations in quite some time,” said Jim Glass, who retired in December as director of the Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology at the Department of Natural Resources.

“That would suggest some counties have major work to be done,” said Glass, who was an ex-officio member of the courthouse preservation commission.

The proposal introduced by Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, would have appropriated $2 million from the general fund to establish low-interest matching loans that counties could borrow for restoration projects and repay with county economic development income tax receipts or revenue from county adjusted gross income tax.

While the loan program is currently out of the bill, Glass said the bill does identify courthouse preservation or restoration as economic development projects that qualify for funding through economic development tax receipts.

“This is another tool in the toolkit,” said Rep. Todd Huston, R-Fishers, House sponsor for the bill.

Wells County Commissioner Kevin Woodward wishes the revolving loan tool had remained in the bill, and he hopes the proposal might resurface. Woodward was a member of the courthouse panel and knows firsthand the problems smaller counties face with upkeep of structures built in an era when the majesty of public buildings was a matter of competition across county lines.

“To preserve those structures, of course we all know it takes a lot of money, and the fact that counties are financially strapped anyway, anything that could be put into place at least gives us a little bit of opportunity,” Woodward said. “It’s the counties that are a little smaller that struggle with their funding source.”

Cox said that in some counties, lack of funds for courthouse work was a persistent problem. Plus, there is often a lack of political will locally to commit money through a bond issue, for instance, and so there aren’t other revenues available.

“The commission identified one of the major problems was the counties only attend to courthouse preservation, restoration or maintenance when it got to the point it couldn’t be ignored anymore,” he said. The commission in a 2011 report recommended lawmakers enact the revolving loan program Merritt proposed so that counties could have a revenue option that didn’t require issuing bonds.

“In most counties, how it works is the roof starts leaking, and there’s knowledge locally that the roof is getting bad,” Cox said. Without money, “you try to defer it or do something that will put it off … then you get to the point where the whole thing has to be done.”

Glass said some counties have fared better than others when it comes to finding ways to fund courthouse upkeep and restoration. Some near riverboat casinos have been able to tap into the taxes collecting from gaming, for instance.

But Cox hopes lawmakers take some note of the importance of the structures that anchor so many county seats around the state, and whose postponed needs will only cost more in the future.

“When those courthouses were built in the mid-19th century and in the late 19th century, counties really competed and took great pride in these structures,” he said. “Those people in various counties when they were constructing these buildings were on board with what you might call the opulence of it.”

The proposal working its way through the Legislature now would also try to build interest in courthouse preservation by creating a traveling exhibit describing the role of courthouses in the history, architecture and art of the counties and the state. That proposal remains, but the $50,000 originally allocated for the exhibit has likewise been stricken from the most recent version of the bill.•

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  • fix this NOW!!
    Considering how ugly all courthouses built after the war look, and how glorious the old ones are, this is really a shame. Shame on these scrurrilous vote-mongers. When they have a chance to do something to preserve our noble Hoosier heritage they muck it up. I will be following up on this with my representative and totally castigating him if he does not help get this fixed. Despicable. Recently I was in Marshall county walking down these august marble steps and admiring the mosaic tile and holding the brass rail and the clients were truly impressed. Take them to some modern cublicle style mostrosity they usually cant tell where the court begins and the shabby bureaucratic container space ends.

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  1. I grew up on a farm and live in the county and it's interesting that the big industrial farmers like Jeff Shoaf don't live next to their industrial operations...

  2. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  3. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  4. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  5. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

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