Staunton City Council holds public hearing on Augusta County courthouse
STAUNTON, Va. (WHSV) - Staunton City Council conducted a work session and a regular meeting on Thursday, Jan. 13.
Much of that discussion surrounded the Augusta County courthouse. The county says they plan to move their courthouse from the current location, and they say they’ll allow county residents to vote to move the courthouse to Verona or remain in Staunton.
That requires a referendum, which, right now, isn’t possible until 2026. However, the county has proposed legislation that would allow a referendum in 2022.
The county has also proposed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the city that says if the city voices its support for the legislation, they will gain control of five properties in Downtown Staunton currently owned by the county.
At their last meeting, Staunton City Council tabled the vote until November, after the referendum would be voted on.
Councilmember Brenda Mead referenced that fact during the work session, saying she had second thoughts on her vote to table.
“As I thought about, a couple of weeks after that vote, it made less and less sense to me, that we would defer taking a position until after Augusta County held its referendum,” said Mead.
Quickly, the meeting grew tense among city officials and the crowd.
Mead also discussed the special meeting, which was canceled earlier this week. Mead said, during that meeting, they would have heard a presentation and discussed the vote again.
Councilmember Stephen Claffey said he wanted to see first how the legislature voted.
“That’s why we’re tabling it until the legislature decides what they’re going to do about this. I’m not convinced that the legislature is going to approve another referendum,” said Claffey.
Council members Terry Holmes, Carolyn Dull and Mead voted in favor of continuing the discussion Thursday, so the motion failed. Instead, they decided to host a public hearing regarding the courthouse, which was met with some criticism from the public since there was no notice before the hearing.
Dull and Mead opposed the public hearing, saying in that format, they’re not able to present as much information as they’d like.
“They don’t know what we know, and it’s disrespectful to our citizen,” said Dull.
City Manager Steven Rosenburg presented information about the properties. He said current estimates show it might cost $10.5 M -$19.7 M to renovate the historic courthouse and $12.8 M - $28.3 M for the general district courts.
Rosenburg said if Staunton doesn’t support the MOU, it might leave the buildings vacant for a while after Augusta County moves out. However, he said the cost is a lot to take on if they do gain ownership of the properties through support for the MOU.
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