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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Portsmouth City Government In One Floor of County Facility?

"Portsmouth Municipal Court has recently expressed an interest in moving from the Portsmouth City Building to the fourth floor of the Scioto County Courthouse. The move and renovation costs are estimated at $1.8 million. At the Tuesday Portsmouth City Council Meeting City Manager Derek Allen expressed concerns over the possible move.

“'I have not talked to him (Allen), the proposal came to us from from the municipal judges,” said Mike Crabtree, chairman of the Scioto County Commissioners. 'They (Portsmouth Municipal Court Judges) have suggested they would be willing to pay a certain amount of rent and possibly put some money towards beefing up the security in the courthouse.'

"Crabtree said the commissioners and the judges have not talked about specific amounts they would be willing to pay."

(Wayne Allen. "Court’s Move Would Cost an Estimated $1.8 Million."  
Portsmouth Daily Times. May 31, 2014)

Wow, close to $2 million for moving Portsmouth Municipal Court. To the county courthouse? The plan calls for not only the courts to move, but also for the probation department, security personnel, clerk of courts and city solicitor to move.

I guess my questions are not only related to the considerable cost of the move but also related to the county courthouse being renovated by city taxpayers.

1. How much space is actually needed for the city municipal court operations? Could a new facility be built to house Portsmouth Municipal Court for the same cost or for less than the cost projected to renovate the fourth floor of the aging Scioto County Courthouse? If only one floor is required, that does not represent that much space.

2. Once renovations are made to the fourth floor of the Scioto County Courthouse, the county receives the benefit of the improvements to the building while city taxpayers foot the bill for improvements to the structure. 

As a city resident, I don't mean to sound selfish, but the county courthouse is old, and who's to say how many other needed renovations might or might not be needed for the county to continue operations. 

Is the entire structure of this courthouse also in a state of disrepair? I've seen some pretty nasty conditions there also. The city can't use an expensive, renovated fourth floor if the county closes the entry doors of an unsuitable, unsafe building. We can't afford to flush two more million dollars down the drain.

Crabtree said he and the other commissioners need to hear something more concrete from the judges or the court.

And, Skip Riffe, Scioto County commissioner, said, “Municipal Court has been interested in that space for years. It’s to me like the municipal court judges and the city manager need to get on the same page. If they are not on the same page it’s going to be difficult moving forward.”

Well, what is this "page" to which Crabtree and Riffe refer?

City Manager Derek Allen expressed concerns over the possible move. Why shouldn't he? He is new on the job and has been given the impossible task of cutting expenses and saving the city from economic disaster. He's been searching for any "pages" to keep Portsmouth afloat.

Is there even a "page" about the city building? Reportedly, Crabtree has never even talked to Allen about the move. He claims the Portsmouth Municipal Court Judges "have suggested they would be willing to pay a certain amount of rent and possibly put some money towards beefing up the security in the courthouse.”

Who is in charge and responsible reads like Abbott and Costello's routine "Who's On First?" It's meant to confuse the average citizen to the point of preferring a root canal to tracking down the truth.

No doubt, the city building is in need of repair. I have seen the pitiful, filthy condition myself, and it also makes one wonder why lack of upkeep seems to continue. Perhaps, the city wants the public to be sickened enough to pay for new quarters. A court experience at the Portsmouth City Building leaves one both depressed and amazed at the indifference of the city to a pleasant, congenial contact.

I'm no expert: maybe the city structure is already "too far gone" and destined to become a heap of rubble. But, for years and years, Portsmouth government has done limited repairs and searched for new quarters and wasted money on proposed structures and speculated on some sky-high value the city building property alone has on the market. Remember the rumor of a casino on the site?

It looks to me as if the "page" first needs to be found before all the public servants play their politics with the citizen's money. Each person involved in a projected move knows what he wants, yet the wrangling and apparent partisan behavior produce nothing but further speculation.

It is very difficult to live in a town so bent on appeasing a chosen few. Past deals in this town have soured the public to future improvement because they lack trust. And who could blame them? Maybe it's time to ask the most important question of all: "Do we need all that space for both city and county operations?"

We live in a county of somewhere near 79,000 inhabitants. Portsmouth itself has faced a continuous decline in population ever since the 1950s. In 1950, more than thirty-six thousand people lived in the city. Now, I believe that number is around 20,000. What does "adequate" and "modern" and "well-maintained" entail? If a new structure is needed, what would it be and what would it cost?

I believe the "page" to which Riffe referred is "Page One" and it requires all who are "on it" to be committed to serving the public of Portsmouth, Ohio.

Just a note: The South Shore, Kentucky City Building was destroyed by fire in 2010. According to Mayor Cheryl Moore, they could have a new city building up and running by the end of this year. The cost is estimated at less than half a million dollars. Moore says it’s being made possible with the insurance payment from the old building and assistance from the federal Department of Agriculture.

New South Shore Facility

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