Progress: Seneca officials considering justice center

By JIM MAURER
STAFF WRITER
TIFFIN — The Seneca County commissioners have made no decision about constructing a building to replace the former county courthouse, but additional funds have been set aside for a potential project.
In October, the commissioners agreed to put $300,000 into a “justice center” fund, which has a balance of $700,000.
No cost estimates have been developed, but the commissioners have said a project may cost $5 million to $6 million.
The commissioners have been presented several building ideas for the site at the corner of Market and Washington streets in Tiffin. The property is where the 1884 courthouse was located until it was demolished in early 2012.
The area is now used as green space by various groups for programs and festivals.
The county’s court annex building, adjacent to the property, has a heating and ventilating system large enough to handle a second building. A new building would likely be connected to the annex building.
In a related matter, a meeting will be held at noon March 5 at the North Central Ohio Educational Service Center to present results of a city-county justice center study. Burgess/Niple, a Columbus-based consultant, will present information.
The study was funded with a $100,000 state grant received by the North Central Ohio Regional Council of Governments.
The city-county building would include space for two common pleas courts, the clerk of courts, and possibly other county offices. Juvenile/probate court would relocate to the annex building from a Jefferson Street site which is not handicapped accessible.
The new building would likely house Tiffin-Fostoria Municipal Court, the municipal court clerk’s offices, and the city prosecutor.
In June, Gov. John Kasich signed legislation which created the combined municipal court to save both communities money. Judge Mark Repp was unopposed in the November election for a six-year term. Fostoria has municipal court space, so residents do not have to travel to Tiffin for court business. Repp splits his week between the two sites.
Wastewater systems
Separately, Bascom’s new wastewater treatment plant became operational about mid-year 2013 and residents were given a year to connect to the sewage system.
Helms and Sons Excavating, Findlay, handled installation of the main lines and construction of the treatment plant. Cost was more than $4 million. Federal funds paid for the work.
Bascom residents have been making quarterly payments for years toward the project.
The federal funds included a $1.1 million loan for the county to purchase the New Riegel sewer system, a federal requirement for approval of the Bascom funds.
The purchase of the New Riegel system was necessary because the former Farmland Foods company closed its plant. The company was expected to pay more than 60 percent of the system’s annual operating cost. With Farmland gone, the community did not have sufficient income to pay for system operations.
Payments by New Riegel residents will cover the county’s loan to purchase the sewer system.
Energy conservation
Separately, work continues on an energy conservation upgrade to county-owned buildings. The largest part of the $877,000 project is being done by Warner Mechanical, Fremont, which bid $529,600 for installation of a “chiller” unit at the Seneca County Services Building on Washington Street, Tiffin. The equipment will be tested in the spring prior to the air conditioning season.
The company’s bid also covered installation of energy control software at the county jail. It will allow control of nine county buildings. Access to the program will be available at the commissioners’ office, too.
Other work includes roof repairs and lighting upgrades at several buildings.
The work is expected to save the county about $153,000 annually, which will be used to pay for the improvements. The county borrowed the money and will also use about $190,000 in Community Development Block Grant money for the work.
The county’s payback is estimated to take six to seven years, according to Ed Reid with Palmer Energy Co., Toledo, the project consultant hired by the County Commissioners Association of Ohio to oversee the work.
Wolf Creek
The commissioners last month affirmed their decision to grant a petition for cleanup of Wolf Creek from about Alvada, near the Hancock/Seneca County line, to Bettsville near the Seneca/Sandusky County line. The commissioners also approved a resolution which sets assessment amounts and a repayment schedule.
The commissioners will fund the estimated $280,000 project. Repayment will be done via assessments on real estate tax bills, with up to three years to repay the funds.
Leaning trees and logjams will be removed this year. Also, sand/silt bars will be removed as part of the work. Some sand/silt bars will require permits from the Army Corps of Engineers, county Engineer Mark Zimmerman said.
The owners of properties that front the drainage channel are being encouraged to do the work themselves, or hire someone to do it. Zimmerman will meet with property owners who want to undertake the work, which will reduce their assessments.
Chaplain Corps
In July, the commissioners approved a lease agreement with Seneca County Chaplain Corps for the former county youth detention center at 3481 S. Eden Township 151, Tiffin. The building faced demolition after a new county youth services center was opened last February.
The Chaplain Corps will pay $1 annually, and provide insurance, maintenance and repairs. The one-year agreement includes an automatic renewal for up to five years if the organization retains its operation. The agreement includes an “out clause” for either side annually.
Among its services, the organization provides counseling, overnight stays for needy or displaced residents, debriefing for emergency personnel after a crisis, and a food pantry.
Rehabilitation center
The commissioners approved a resolution in December to issue up to $18 million in bonds for construction of a post-acute care rehabilitation center and geriatric psychiatric medical building on land adjacent to Mercy Hospital.
It will include 20 beds for rehabilitation patients. They will be relocated from Autumnwood Care Center on Ohio 18 east. Also, there will be 24 beds for geriatric psychiatric care, for individuals at least 65 years old.
Volunteers of America, which operates the Tiffin nursing home, will fund construction of the building.
The county will have no responsibility for debt payment, but was required to sign off on the issuance of bonds.
Also in December, the commissioners approved a 1 percent increase in the county lodging tax charged by hotels and motels. The tax is now 3 percent.
The tax money will be used by Seneca Regional Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Services to promote the county.
Last April, Don Kelbley resigned as director of the county emergency medical service. He had been director since November 2010.
He was replaced by Ken Majors. Majors is working with the commissioners on a long-range plan for the service which may include paying workers. It may take a year or two to develop the plan.
Ohio 53 project
A four-county group, the Transportation Coalition of North Central Ohio, organized to promote Ohio 53 safety improvements. The group wants to seek state funds for the project.
The group includes officials from Wyandot, Seneca, Sandusky and Ottawa counties.
A final report, expected in the fall, would cover the 54-mile road from U.S. 30/U.S. 23 near Upper Sandusky to Ohio 2 in Ottawa County. Left-turn lanes at intersections, a wider berm, lowering some hills which obstruct visibility at intersections, and additional signs are among the suggestions to improve safety.
Maurer: 419-427-8420
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