June 25, 2016

Mostly sunny

No money for courthouse expansion

Architect's rendering of a proposed $17 million addition and renovation of the Medina County Courthouse. County commissioners say there's just no money to start the project. (DAN POMPILI / GAZETTE)

Judges and other county courthouse employees will have to make do in cramped quarters for at least another year, county commissioners say.

There’s just no money, they say.

“One of the things commissioners are obligated to do is maintain the buildings and keep them safe and looking decent, but all we’ve been able to do for the past several years is put Band-Aids on it,” said Commissioner Pat Geissman. “We need to do the renovations and the expansion.

“We’re just not in a position to move forward.”

Geissman said the commissioners had hoped to use Medina County’s share of casino revenue funds from this year to begin the project, but less money is coming in than projected.

In addition, she voiced concern that property tax may fall short because of lower housing values.

Geissman said the county also may need to put more money toward the public transit system, which is facing revenue cuts because of the loss of federal funding stemming from Medina County’s incorporation into the Cuyahoga County urban transportation district.

The courthouse expansion and other improvements have an estimated price tag of $17 million, with the cost spread over a 20-year payment schedule.

The project would include a courtroom and upgrades to the building electrical system.

The failure of the project to move forward is a disappointment to Medina city officials who had hoped to use part of the expansion for the municipal court, which has outgrown its building, at 135 N. Elmwood Ave.

Medina Mayor Dennis Hanwell said the city first discussed sharing space with the county in 2010. The issue was brought up at a May 30 meeting.

“The advantage to that being we could share the parking deck, security, attorney meeting rooms and restrooms to where the building could be used more efficiently to save both the county and the city money,” Medina Mayor Dennis Hanwell said. “We wouldn’t know any of the numbers until we know square footage, but it hasn’t gotten that far.”

Other county officials agreed there is no chance of the project moving forward this year.

County Finance Director Scott Miller said the state projected

$2.63 million in casino revenue for the county, but the commissioners budgeted conservatively at $2.3 million. Halfway through the year, Medina has only received $884,000.

County Administrator Chris Jakab said the county has set aside $1 million of those funds for capital improvements, including $275,000 to stabilize and repair the courthouse clock tower.

Jakab said that project will represent $1 million spent over the past several years on improvements to the courthouse, including column and foundation repairs to the “new” side of the building.

Jakab said he plans to meet with the judges individually this summer and discuss their needs and keep them up to date on project status.

“I think during budget time 2014, we will possibly be discussing a longer term project and maybe funding something,” Jakab said.

Meanwhile, the courthouse employees are making the best of a bad situation.

Terry George, bailiff for Medina County Common Pleas Judge Christopher J. Collier, said lack of space is the most pressing problem.

George said magistrates are often forced to hold hearings in their offices or even in the hallways.

She said the lack of space and the building’s layout creates security concerns. There is no holding room for inmates, nor is there a separate elevator to transport them between floors.

This means civilians are bumped from the single elevator in the building when inmates need to be moved.

Contact reporter Dan Pompili at (330) 721-4012 or dpompili@medina-gazette.com.