Augusta County voters overwhelmingly approved a proposal from county leaders to build a new county courthouse in Verona in a Tuesday referendum.
Six years after a similar referendum was defeated by a more than two-to-one margin, 86.3 percent of voters cast their lot in favor of building a new courthouse in Verona, with 13.7 percent voting to have the courthouse remain in Staunton.
The one change in the two referendum questions was that in 2016, the question asked of voters was to build a new courthouse in Verona at a cost of $45 million, yes or no, whereas in the 2022 cycle, the question was, effectively, build a new courthouse in Verona at a cost of $80 million, or a new one in Staunton for $104 million.
Technically, a vote for Staunton did not equate to approval for a new courthouse, but in practice, it very much was.
Augusta County is under a standing court order to address space and safety issues at the current Augusta County Courthouse, which is located in Downtown Staunton.
After the failed 2016 referendum, county leaders, trying to get ahead of the court order that would later force their hand, tried for years, without success, to work with Staunton leaders to come to a cost-effective solution to the space and safety concerns at the landlocked current courthouse location that got more obvious as time went on.
After those efforts failed to get anywhere, the Augusta County Board of Supervisors asked for help from the General Assembly last year to get approval for another referendum.
With the backing of Del. John Avoli, a former Staunton mayor, and State Sen. Emmett Hanger, legislation authorizing a referendum seemed headed to swift passage earlier this year, but Staunton leaders were able to convince Gov. Glenn Youngkin to hold off on signing the bill, citing concern over the impact of a courthouse move on the city’s economy.
The governor eventually signed the bill in May, setting in motion the move to put the matter before county voters.