A revised proposal for using public and private funds to renovate the 1884 courthouse was sent to Seneca County commissioners this week. The major change involved shelving plans to replace the tower atop the closed courthouse - the part of the project which was to be paid for with private funds.
According to the letter from Emmett M. Kelly, of Frost Brown Todd LLC Attorneys, a portion of the funds that would have been used to replace the tower instead would be used to establish a reserve account equal to one year's payment on the 30-year loan, roughly $280,000.
That would be in addition to a similar amount the county would have to set aside as required by the loan from U.S. Department of Agriculture.
It also would serve a similar purpose. If the county couldn't afford to service the long-term debt from the renovation, the reserve could be used to make the payment. Note that the fund would equal one year of payments - and have to be repaid (interest free) on an "ability to pay" basis.
But what happens if the county can't afford to cover the debt service at all? Some preservationists anticipate the county would be able to use its cut of casino profits to meet the debt obligation. County Commissioners Association of Ohio predicts Seneca would get $283,000 in 2012 and $1 million in 2013.
However, the income wouldn't offset the $350,000 the county is to lose in local government funding next year. And the county is to get $700,000 less in the second year of the two-year state budget.
But let's be optimistic for a moment. Suppose the county really would have $300,000 extra to spend annually for the next 30 years. There would be other ways to allocate that funding besides retiring debt due to a renovated courthouse.
Some residents might suggest having more deputies on the road, at least during times when crime rates are higher. Others might favor funding a county EMS system similar to Sandusky County's. Yet others might prefer funds be spent for county parks.
And commissioners might decide what the county really needs is a new probate and juvenile court building.
As it is, the board is planning a 2012 budget that is smaller than this year's. And Thursday, members voted 2-1 to accept a bid to raze the vacant courthouse.
It looks like the revised future for Seneca County won't include a renovated courthouse. It might not include a replacement, either.