Opponents: Augusta County not required to spend funds on courthouse if referendum fails
Augusta Citizens Coalition and Common Sense Courthouse Solutions, two groups opposing the November 8 referendum to move the Augusta County courthouse at a cost of $45 million, today highlighted information concerning state law that could have a significant impact on the ongoing Augusta County courthouse referendum debate.
In 2009 and in every biennial budget passed since, the Virginia General Assembly granted localities the following authority: Mandated changes or improvements to court facilities pursuant to § 15.2-1643 or otherwise shall be delayed at the request of the local governing body in which the court is located.
Based on that, the critics argue, this provision essentially grants local governing bodies, like the Augusta County Board of Supervisors, the ability to indefinitely postpone court-mandated updates to local court facilities.
Duane Barron, a member of Common Sense Courthouse Solutions, stated the following: “The law makes it extremely clear that if the referendum fails and a judge mandates courthouse updates, then the Board of Supervisors has the authority to postpone that decision.”
Several current and former county officials have publicly and repeatedly stated that, should the referendum fail, the Augusta County circuit court judge would mandate updates.
To that effect, Supervisor Marshall Pattie offered the following statement: “I, and the rest of the Board of Supervisors, know that state law currently allows the Board to delay court-mandates updates to local court facilities. Unfortunately, this fact has not been fully or publicly discussed by those who support moving the courthouse.”
To date, no county official past or present has publicly commented on the authority granted, despite them having had knowledge of the provision and the power to exercise this authority since 2009.
Several officials have also stated on the record that the judge could potentially require a complete rebuild. However, the section of code that outlines how circuit courts order court facilities to be repaired specifically states the following: “Nothing in this section shall be construed to authorize a circuit court to require that an additional or replacement courthouse be constructed.”
Tom Sheets, a member of Augusta Citizens Coalition, stated “Several supervisors continue to push a referendum founded on falsely hiding behind the judiciary. Their actions have left county voters with a false impression that the push to build new has been all but required by the court when, in fact, that decision rests entirely with the Board.”
Sheets continued, “The Board has not made a fair representation of this process to their constituents. That should leave voters suspect of the county’s plan to move the courthouse.”