St. Joseph County Courts Renovation Moves Forward in Planning

(Photo by John Deacon|American Courthouse Photo Archive)

At a regular meeting of the St. Joseph County Board of Commissioners Tuesday, commissioners approved an expenditure of $53,000 toward planning and design services for the proposed renovation of the county’s Courts Building. The design work will be performed by Tower Pinkster Design Services. The Courts Building is an annex to the county courthouse.

County Administrator Teresa Doehring said the work is to facilitate a grant application through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Loan Program, which she said is the best available potential source of funds for the renovation. In order to begin the application process, which Doehring said is “very substantial,” additional design guidance and services are necessary to ensure the application is complete.

Tuesdays approval does not authorize the renovation project itself. If the county is approved for the USDA loan, Doehring said the project would return to the commission for approval at that time. In that case, additional expenditures would include finishing design work and whatever costs the renovation work incurs.

Commission Chair Dennis Allen said the approval will enable Doehring and others to determine what costs would be involved in pursuing the project, and acting quickly on the loan preserves an opportunity to take advantage of interest rates that are currently favorable if the county decides to move ahead with the work. In light of current budget shortfalls, Allen said, “if we have to, we shelve it and put it aside and wait until the time is right.”  By approving the expenditure and pursuing the loan application, Commissioner Ken Malone said the county would at least not lose potential ground.

Covered Bridge Healthcare Land Deal Modified

A previously discussed and approved land deal with Covered Bridge Healthcare has been approved for modification. In the deal, Covered Bridge will purchase the building it currently occupies, and which it has been leasing from the county in Centreville. The sale enables Covered Bridge to perform renovation and expansion work on its facility.

The two parties entered into a land contract for the property over the summer, but Covered Bridge subsequently discovered it must merge the property with an adjacent one so that a proposed drive-through pharmacy will meet zoning and code regulations. An unexpected source of cash enables them to make the purchase outright so the property merger and construction can move forward. The purchase price is $144,000.

In other County Commission business:

  • Commissioners approved the pass-through of funds for a Sheriff’s Department program that will be funded by a grant. Grant Administrator James Hissong said the Michigan State Police has awarded the Sheriff’s Office $80,000 to support Jail Divergent Services, which seeks alternatives to incarceration for certain offenders in cooperation with the county’s Community Mental Health agency and other partners. Tuesday’s vote authorized both the receipt and the expenditure of those funds.
  • Commissioners also approved an Indigent Defense Agreement for 2021, which comes with a two percent increase over this year’s agreement but does not draw from the general fund.
  • The annual contract for 2021 with Canteen Food Service for county jail meal programs is authorized to move forward. That program is seeing a small increase, partly due to pandemic-related costs, but Undersheriff Jason Bingaman said the program may be partly offset by pandemic relief grant funds.
  • Commissioners voted to accept the County Treasurer’s Annual Report, and wished Treasurer Judy Ratering well in her upcoming retirement, which comes at the end of 2020.
  • Planning for the 2021 Fiscal Year Budget will continue at a work session following the next Executive Committee meeting, which is scheduled to take place in person at the historic courthouse at 8 a.m. on November 10 to avoid a conflict with Veterans Day.

Dave Vago is a writer and columnist for Watershed Voice. A Philadelphia native with roots in Three Rivers, Vago is a planning consultant to history and community development organizations and is the former Executive Director of the Three Rivers DDA/Main Street program.