Commissioners approve courthouse improvements

The Washington County Commissioners approved two capital projects Thursday put forth by Tim Marty, superintendent of Buildings and Grounds.

A total of three projects were discussed, but a proposal to clean and waterproof the exterior of the bottom two floors of the Washington County Courthouse was shelved. The commissioners said the project’s $18,000 price tag was too low to meet cost requirements for a capital project, but that they will look into appropriating the money for the project from the general fund.

The other two approved projects were also centered on the updating and renovation of the courthouse.

The first to meet the commissioners’ approval is a plan to update the fire alarm system at both the courthouse and its annex. Marty said the $58,518 project would replace the 1970’s era system in the annex and combine it with an updated main building system.

Marty said the two systems are made by different manufacturers and not only require separate contracts to maintain, but don’t communicate with each other in the event of a fire.

“Deputies have had to go into the offices (of the courthouse annex) to let people know there is an alarm (in the main building),” he said.

Marty said the old system also doesn’t give first responders the information they need quickly enough.

“In the courthouse they have to lift a red panel and find a red light that tells them where the fire is,” he said. “The annex is worse. You have to use a book to find out where (the fire) is.”

Marty said the new system will be equipped with annunciators at the entrances of both the courthouse and the annex. The devices tell the first responders audibly where the fire is located in the building.

“It will be a lot more streamline with a lot less confusion,” he said.

The second project approved is the refurbishing of the grand staircase outside the courthouse. The $45,000 project will replace steps, balusters and the stone sills on the steps. Marty said the staircase is leaking and causing damage to its structure. Marty also said the damage doesn’t affect the structural integrity of the courthouse itself, but will continue to deteriorate the stairs. Marty stressed the importance of the building as an institution in the county.

“The courthouse is the Washington County seat,” he said.

Also at Thursday’s meeting:

•Flite Freimann, director of Washington County Job and Family Services, and Rick Hindman, assistant executive director of the Buckeye Hills Regional Council, talked to the commissioners about a proposal to provide better low-income housing for seniors.

The project would allow low-income seniors to live at a single facility that will be a central hub for services geared toward helping the elderly in need.

Freimann said the project is still in its embryonic stage and needs funding in order to meet prerequisites for lucrative tax credits from the state that could potentially pay for the entire project. Hindman said the $40,000 would cover plans for engineering and environmental concerns, as well as marketing for the program.

Freimann said the project would be open to private investors that would be reimbursed after the tax credits were received. Freimann also said that even though there would be private investors involved, JFS and Buckeye Hills would still be in control of the project from beginning to end.

The commissioners approved Freimann putting together an intergovernmental agreement that would outline the obligations of all parties to be presented next Thursday at the weekly commission meeting.

Freimann also updated the commissioners on carried over debts from Children Services following its merger with JFS. The total amount for the carried over debt is just over $507,000.

“It is worse than we anticipated,” Freimann said.

Freimann told commissioners that the money required was already in the budget, but an advance was needed to take care of the debts. He said funds from the levy passed in 2018 would be eligible to be used to pay part of the debt, as the majority of it is related to placement costs for children.

Freimann also proposed a plan to use Title IV-E Foster Care funds to help offset the costs of placing children. The federal money could be used to help pay some of the $2,920 daily cost to the county of placing children in foster care. Freimann said there are currently 28 children fostered by the county who would be eligible for the federal funding.

•The commissioners approved a $1,500-a-month increase to the Humane Society of the Ohio Valley shelter’s budget. Commissioner David White said the money would go to local vets to inspect the animals at the shelter weekly.

“It will improve the quality of care the animals receive,” he said. “Through bi-weekly visits, they will be able to see to all the animals’ care up to and including euthanasia.”

White said veterinarians from the area are welcome to volunteer for the position, and a rotating schedule will occur if several vets choose to participate.