FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
During the past three decades, nine Augusta County Boards of Supervisors, several sitting judges, and all need studies performed on the current court facilities have not found a need for moving Augusta County court operations from their current location and for a new courthouse facility to be built. Also, since 2002, the county has not performed study to determine whether or not there is a real and pressing need for a new courthouse.
However, the current Board of Supervisors officially approved a public referendum that will be on the ballot this Election Day, November 8. This referendum will ask county taxpayers to 1) allow the county to move all Augusta County court operations to Verona and 2) approve construction costs for a new court facility there at a cost of $45,000,000, a figure that's only an initial estimate provided by Moseley Architects and arrived at without the county securing any actual bids for construction.
County taxpayers don’t get a second vote. If this referendum passes and actual construction costs go over budget, the project would still have to be finished, as the referendum is binding and the courts must move no matter the cost. That means the county would have to look to potentially raising taxes, pulling money from other parts of the county budget, or borrowing even more money to finish.
Significant details, such as the actual construction costs and other alternative options that should be considered, are not being adequately and accurately discussed. The county should not leave taxpayers to cast such a critical vote with incomplete data and many unanswered questions.
Yes. A cheaper option is to renovate the current courthouse. Renovation costs are estimated to be as low as $9,500,000, according to a 2012 Frazier Associates study. That’s a far cry from the $45,000,000. This plan would also upgrade security and ADA accessibility at the current courthouse, as well as allow the county to meet court needs through utilizing county assets at a far less expensive cost than moving to Verona.
County officials are now holding meetings and attending local events to educate the community on why they believe a move is necessary, but providing inaccurate figures concerning costs and not fully discussing alternative options.
Specifically, the county is using a highly inaccurate figure of $59,500,000 as the cost of keeping the courts where they are currently. However, this figure is a county estimate of what the cost would be to build the $45,000,000 Moseley Architects-designed facility, intended to be built in Verona should the referendum pass, in downtown Staunton – so, the cost of acquiring land, demolishing existing buildings, and building that exact facility design where the current courthouse exists. It is not the actual estimated cost of renovation or any other option.
By doing this, the county can make a convenient “$45,000,000 or $59,500,000?” argument to taxpayers and make moving to Verona seem like a cheaper option. But, as anyone can clearly see, this is a highly inaccurate comparison which fails to mention the actual estimated costs of other options. It’s not clear why the county would use this amount in all public materials without providing accurate costs, facts, and the complete details of cheaper alternative options.
Frankly, it’s county government not listening to the will of its taxpaying citizens.
Prior to the Board of Supervisors putting this issue on the ballot, public support for moving the courthouse has been incredibly rare. On the other hand, opposition to the move has been nearly unanimous. In fact, the Augusta Bar Association, whose members are arguably the most frequent users of the courts, voted 80-1 against moving the courts to Verona, with the only dissenting vote being the County Attorney.
For years, taxpayers have been calling on the county to update, or at the very least maintain, the existing courthouse. Those requests have fallen on deaf ears. Instead, the county Board of Supervisors has decided to put this issue on the ballot this fall.
Given that virtually no one – taxpayers, every previous Board of Supervisors, previous judges, and the court's most frequent users – have been in favor of a move, it would seem that the general public’s best interest would be served by spending elsewhere. Instead of building a new courthouse, the county could use the funds on other high-priority areas like county schools, public safety, infrastructure, or public works.
These funds could put more teachers in the classroom. It could put more sheriff's deputies on road, an area where Augusta County is far behind its neighboring counties like Rockingham and Shenandoah. It could help the county recruit businesses, creating more jobs and attracting new residents. The vast majority of county taxpayers would benefit from any one or more of these investments, but few will ever benefit from having a new courthouse.
The most important thing you can do is reject the referendum by voting “NO” to the ballot question this Election Day, November 8. In doing so, you're telling the county to consider other options that would save county taxpayers money.
Additionally, you can take action, sign up for updates, and learn more information about the issue here on the site.
Last, but certainly not least, please spread the word. Tell all your friends and family about the issue and get them to vote “NO” on Election Day, visit this site, and take action.