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July 28, 2004

County seat best place for Leelanau courthouse

BY REBECCA REYNOLDS
      Leelanau County needs a modern, secure courthouse with all county offices and services under one roof. This one-stop shopping is not only possible in Leland, but also preferable.
      A courthouse should be the centerpiece of a community, as it has been in Leland since 1882, not hidden away on a hill behind a jail. Our county should not lead the parade on sprawl. It should protect our peninsula's rural landscape and invest in our villages as per the county general plan and sound planning principles.
      Leelanau Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility opposes removing the county seat from Leland. We contend it is less expensive to build and operate a new courthouse in Leland. (The county's site evaluation report, engineering firm, and previous architect found building in Leland less expensive than at the remote jail site.)
      Plus, using the Leland site gives the option of remodeling all or part of the existing facility at less cost per square foot than new construction.
      In 1997, the Board of Commissioners voted to pursue architect John Dzuirman's proposal for Leland, remodeling the existing 10,014-square-foot building and adding 17,121 square feet for a total of 27,135 square feet for $3.7 million.
      Now, the board proposes building 60,000 square feet next to the jail for $7.4 million. If Leland was the sensible choice then, why not now? (Note: Zoning is no longer an issue in Leland.)
      Overkill on the hill: Just as the bard of commissioners over-built the 72-bed jail, they will over-build the county offices/courthouse off M-204, given the chance.
      Take their jail numbers. There is an average of 19 inmates per day in Leelanau County. Now the board proposes renting out only 30 of the remaining 53 beds to "neighboring counties" because of corrections staffing requirements and budget considerations. This leaves 23 empty beds and 30 beds to rent.
      And who are these "neighboring counties"? Benzie, Kalkaska and Charlevoix counties rent to Grand Traverse, so they have available beds. Antrim has an adequate facility. Grand Traverse rents 30 to 40 beds per day, but it has a committee researching building a new, larger facility. So much for "neighboring counties."
      Who will rent at this 72-bed jail? The board must then turn to the state of Michigan. The state relieves overcrowding in its prisons by farming out felons. Does Leelanau County really want felons bused in from across the state? Did commissioners think this through?
      Recently, several Michigan counties built jails outside their population centers, but none dragged its county seat/courthouse with it when it did. Most counties would envy Leelanau County's attractive village location with public riverfront property promoting civic pride. Do we really want our county's emblem of significance plopped down next to a large rent-a-jail?
      Yes, money's in the bank for a new courthouse, but how much will it really cost to build and operate the board's 52,000-square-foot "overkill on the hill"? Moves are costly. Preserve our historic county seat, promote our villages and prevent rural sprawl. Vote "no" Aug. 3.
     
      About the author
      Rebecca Reynolds is a full-time Leland resident and a member of Leelanau Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility, a group that supports keeping the county courthouse in Leland.
     
      About the forum
      The forum is a periodic column of opinion written by Record-Eagle readers in their areas of interest or expertise. Submissions of 500 words or less may be made. Please include biographical information and a photo.
     

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