Courthouse Square changes eyed

Once the site of the Seneca County courthouse, Courthouse Square has become something of a gathering place for local organizations and events.

That may change soon.

While presenting a letter to commissioners during their meeting Tuesday morning, Seneca County Common Pleas Court Judge Steve Shuff suggested the board allow for a review of the uses of Courthouse Square on a temporary or permanent basis.

“We have some real concerns, especially during normal court hours,” he said. “Having any events there, it interferes with normal court operations, quite frankly, especially when we have jury trials going on.”

The letter, signed jointly by Shuff and Judge Michael Kelbley, and signed in agreement by Sheriff Bill Eckelberry, asked commissioners to immediately prohibit further use of the space until completion of the three-month review and to not allow approval of future applications.

Applications and programs already approved by the board – which include a wedding, activities related to the Heritage Festival and Tiffin farmers’ markets and exercise group meetings – should be allowed to go ahead, Shuff said. Commissioners agreed.

Shuff said his concerns, echoed by Kelbley and Eckelberry, include security for the public and those on trial and a matter of ensuring a fair trial. Concerns most recently arose after a petition filed by The Ritz Theatre for an event in August, during which time multiple jury trials are scheduled. In a discussion of new business, commissioners said they intended to deny the application.

“Many of these events should be at Hedges-Boyer Park, where there is plenty of parking, where there is a 10-15 mph speed zone, where there is plenty of space,” Shuff said, adding there are many parks throughout the county appropriate for these activities. “… To have some of these events there is causing the courts concern.”

Commissioners agreed to the review and said they plan to formally approve members of the group at their next meeting. Members may include Commissioner Fred Zoeller and representatives of Seneca County common pleas court, sheriff’s office, Tiffin Tomorrow, Seneca Regional Chamber of Commerce and Tiffin Area League of Women’s Voters. Shuff suggested the group not have more than seven members.

In new business, commissioners approved a supplemental appropriation of $300,000 to the General Fund to account for increased utility and repair services. County Administrator Stacy Wilson said some costs were associated with a more severe winter and recent upgrades to county property, but specifically mentioned a $12,000 increase to the county’s monthly phone bill.

Wilson said because the county is out of contract with provider AT&T, phone service increased from $4,000 a month to $16,000. The county plans to change providers to Time Warner Cable, however implementation is moving slowly because Wilson has concerns about changing service for all county buildings immediately, and the county already has paid for two months at the higher rate.

Commissioner Jeff Wagner said the county has had problems with AT&T, including miscommunication about how many phone lines the county has. Wilson said they hope to solve these issues with Time Warner.

Wilson said average utility costs for the county have increased from $58,000 to $84,000.

Following the meeting, Zoeller said he intends to speak with representatives of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio to see if the county can recoup the payments.

In other business, Wilson said some residents in Clinton and Big Spring townships had contacted the office after receiving a letter from power supplier IGS for a power aggregation agreement that residents had voted for during the November election. Wilson said the letter, which was legitimate, explained the program and made residents aware of the opt-out option.

In other news, the board:

Heard a presentation from David Betlejewski of Simon Roofing Products.

Approved a supplemental appropriation of $6,000 for the General Fund for postage.

Approved an appropriation adjustment of $29,675 within the Capital Projects Fund for the jail.

Approved a fund transfer of $61,968.50 to the Public Assistance Fund.

Approved a supplemental appropriation of $5,410 for the Poll Worker Training Grant Fund.

Approved a supplemental appropriation of $200,000 for the Public Assistance Fund.

Approved a resolution authorizing commissioners to enter into a contract with Gerken Paving Inc. for the Seneca CR 5/CR13/CR19 paving project.

Approved a resolution authorizing Commissioner Holly Stacy to sign the Ohio Public Works Commission project agreement for the Ohio Local Transportation Improvement Program.

Approved bill vouchers.