Thursday, September 11, 2003

Officials at odds over cost of renovating court center



By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

WEST CHESTER TWP. - Township and Butler County leaders are at odds again - this time over $1.2 million needed to renovate a portion of the township's new services building for Butler County Area III Court.

Butler officials say they can't pay more than $100,000 for renovations at West Chester's new center off Beckett Road. But township leaders say if the county can't put up money to renovate space for their court, it will have to move.

The township plans to move most of its departments into the 180,000-square-foot building on 24 acres by next fall. The administration staff will move from an office building off Interstate 75 and Union Centre Boulevard to the police station on Cincinnati-Dayton Road, where the court now operates.

Two likely new locations for the court if it moves are the old county courthouse in Hamilton and the administration building in Monroe, Area III Court Judge Bob Hendrickson said Tuesday.

Trustees Jose Alvarez and Dave Tacosik were inclined to try to work out an agreement with the county to keep the court in West Chester. It's more efficient, they said, for police and township personnel to have the court located in West Chester, rather than officials traveling outside the township.

But Trustee Catherine Stoker was skeptical. What it would cost the township to send personnel to Area III Court elsewhere would be "peanuts compared to $1.2 million" needed for renovations, she noted.

"It may be an inconvenience but it's not a $1.2 million inconvenience," she said, later adding that she hoped the county would find the money somehow to pay its share.

"It just seems to me there must be some middle ground here. ... We need to have the county grow, too. They have been able to afford a lot of stuff, and you would think courtrooms would be important."

Commissioner Mike Fox said Wednesday that, while the county would like to keep the Area III Court in West Chester, paying $1.2 million for renovations is "ridiculous."

"We are not building palaces for judges," he said.

The county, he said, can build a new facility for the court at that amount.

He also said the county has talked to Monroe and Liberty Township leaders about perhaps relocating the court to their jurisdictions.

The court was situated in West Chester for residents' convenience, he said; the other two county area courts are in Oxford and Hamilton.

"We want to make it as convenient and accommodating as possible," he said. "(But) to request $1.2 million for a court facility is just far too much. We don't have it right now. We are in very difficult budget times."

Quarters inside the police station for Area III Court are bursting at the seams, Hendrickson said. The court handles 10,000 cases a year, he said, up from 8,000 in 1997, when he began as judge. Hendrickson encouraged the township on Tuesday to work with county leaders to resolve the matter.

"There needs to be more dialogue between the county and the township," he told trustees. "Time appears to be an issue."

E-mail: jedwards@enquirer.com.




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