Joint talks

County, city plan to discuss courthouse

February 4, 2015

By Brittany Cook - Staff Writer ( , The Advertiser-Tribune

Seneca County commissioners are planning to meet with Tiffin City Council members sometime next week to discuss the East Tower study, the board reported during its regular meeting Tuesday.

Commissioner Fred Zoeller said the county and city are stewards of taxpayer money and must understand the costs of using the Courthouse Square or East Tower as the site of a possible joint justice center.

"I don't want to agree to something that we find out down the road the cost isn't what we thought it was going to be," he said. "Those are a lot of issues we need to work out."

The study was managed by Seneca Industrial and Economic Development Corp. and funded by a private individual.

Board President Holly Stacy said it was important to discuss the information in the first meeting and determine issues such as ownership.

She said because the county would use at least two-thirds of the building, it would fall under county ownership.

Zoeller said the county hires Maximus, an independent contractor, to determine the cost of rent for non-county entities in county-owned buildings, such as the Seneca County General Health District. The county could hire Maximus to determine the rent paid by the city, he said.

Regardless of whether the county and city have more concrete information about the price of renovation versus construction, they would have to make a decision eventually, Stacy said.

"We have to make that decision ... in order to move on," she said. "We're at a crossroads."

Commissioners also discussed snow emergency procedures for county offices. The county has no official policy; public officials and department heads decide whether their specific offices close.

County Administrator Stacy Wilson said the clerk of courts office prepared a policy that has been implemented in snow emergencies. She suggested the county adopt the policy and all departments follow it.

Under that policy, courts and county offices would remain open during Level 1 and Level 2 snow emergencies. If a Level 3 was declared, all courts and offices would be closed. If a Level 2 became a Level 3 during the day, all courts and offices would close upon announcement of the new level. If a Level 3 went to a Level 2, courts and offices would remain closed.

If a county employee does not report to work during a Level 2, they do not get paid unless they use leave time. During a Level 3, employees are paid, Wilson said.

Stacy said a uniform policy would be best, although commissioners cannot force a department to follow it.

Zoeller said a Level 3 snow emergency has a negative economic effect on local businesses.

Stacy said Seneca County Sheriff Bill Eckelberry also must consider residents who live outside Tiffin who must travel to work and he must determine the level based on safety.

In other business, Stacy said amendments to the Seneca County Museum's lease for 2015 have been drafted and still must be approved.

Under the current lease, the Seneca County Historical Society is responsible for building maintenance and utilities. When the amendments take effect, the county will assume those duties.

Zoeller said the amendments were a step in the right direction, but the county still must decide the fate of the museum, which might include uniting the Seneca County Historical Society and the Barnes-Deinzer Seneca County Museum Foundation Inc. into a joint museum board.

Stacy said discussions have begun with a third-party mediator and she hopes all entities will meet for discussion in late March.

Stacy also said she met with Wood and Hancock county commissioners about the joint ditch for the Portage River. Because the section of the ditch in Seneca County is very small, the Wood County engineer is to move forward on the project for Seneca County.