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City-county building unlikely

January 13, 2012

County Attorney Mark Burry

    Hopes for a new city-county building in Decatur and a move out of the current superior court building seemed to fade away on Thursday with the unseasonable weather being experienced here earlier this week.
    At a meeting held in the superior court room involving city and county officials plus interested citizens, high costs and all manner of legal hoops to jump through to get a referendum on the November ballot apparently have doomed the plans — hopes would be a more appropriate word — for a new structure which would house superior court, the county probation department, plus a city police station and city hall, and possibility other entities.
    The quarter-block area along Madison St. which faces the courthouse and currently houses Gensis salon and the Living Word Temple, among others, has been the target area. An early estimate pegged the total cost at $6 million to 7 million.
    And as hopes for a joint building seem to be fading, it looks like the two entities could soon be going their separate ways, with good will still existing.
    A new idea was injected into the talks: the possible purchase and subsequent renovation of the former Music House in the downtown area. If the county commissioners approve, probably at their next meeting Monday, the Schenkel and Schultz architectural firm of Fort Wayne will look over that building and provide a cost assessment.
    Decatur Mayor John Schultz made it clear, however, that if the county officials have not made some firm determinations by the end of February, then the city "will proceed with what it has to do." Schultz said earlier in the meeting that the city has been looking to do some downtown revitalization.
    The superior court building, as has been well publicized in the past few years, is more than 100 years old and its problems are multiplying. One of the major issues is security and another is severe overcrowding. Then there are the structural problems.
    The meeting opened with County Attorney Mark Burry offering some background on the committee which has been trying to put some proposals together for more than a year; the major work the Schenkel and Schultz firm has put into the effort; the legal obligations and costs required to get a proposal on the November ballot; the almost-prohibitive method of a bond issue since it would be highly complicated by the state's tax caps; and more.
    The bottom line was clear: quite a bit of money could be spent — maybe $60,000 — to get the issue on the ballot, asking a tax increase. Then what chance would it have of passing.?
    The time schedule to get a proposal on the ballot, Burry said, "would be very tight, very expensive ... and very complex."
    State statues even severely limit the way a proposal could be marketed to the public.
    "Everyone has put a lot of time and effort in this. But in my estimation, I don't see it happening," Burry said. "We might as well be throwing snowballs in hell."

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