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Augusta County Courthouse legislation moves forward in Senate

Published: Jan. 26, 2022 at 6:24 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 26, 2022 at 6:40 PM EST
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Edit: A previous version said they need to move their facilities according to state law. The story below has been edited to clarify that the facilities need to be upgraded to meet state law requirements.

STAUNTON, Va. (WHSV) - Augusta County officials are pushing forward with their plans to let citizens vote on where to move their courthouse.

The county’s proposal to have another referendum was heard Tuesday, Jan. 25 in the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee, which means their plan to have another vote is underway.

“We were very fortunate that this bill came out of committee with a recommendation, a vote of 14-1, and so we’re very pleased with that. As the bill continues to head through the General Assembly, we’ll continue to work through that,” said County Administrator Tim Fitzgerald.

The legislation will continue through the General Assembly throughout the coming weeks. The legislation is necessary because Augusta County held a referendum in 2016, but people voted to keep the courthouse in Staunton. Normally, there would be a 10-year waiting period from one referendum to another.

State law says they need upgraded facilities, whether it’s in Staunton or Verona, and they say they can’t wait until 2026.

With that, they’re under a show cause permit to meet requirements set by the state.

“We are going to build this project at some point, and with that we’d like for the citizens to be able to tell us where they’d like to see it go,” said Fitzgerald.

Officials have put a lot of resources toward making that change possible.

“With all of our work since 2016, we have spent $1.2 million in trying to get an option downtown in Staunton,” said Fitzgerald.

If the referendum happens, voters will see how much each option will cost.

“Should we build it in Verona for x amount of money? Or should we build it in the city for x amount of money? We’re working on those estimates leading up to November,” Fitzgerald said.

Lawmakers will have to vote to agree for that referendum to be on the November ballot. Augusta County had filed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the City of Staunton since the changes will impact them, too.

However, Staunton City Council tabled the vote on the MOU, so the document is no longer valid.

“The MOU that we have approved is no longer valid because the dates in it are not correct,” Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald said county leaders would like to reach an agreement with the city in the future. Regardless, they have to move on with the plans since General Assembly is in regular session.

“We are moving forward with our legislation even with the fact that the MOU was not agreed upon,” said Fitzgerald.

Representative John Avoli (R) sponsored the bill in the House, and Senator Emmett Hangar (R) sponsored the bill in the Senate. The House Bill will go to committee next week.

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