Monday, May 20, 2024

Commissioner's Column: How many commissioners does it take to change a light bulb?

| March 28, 2023 1:00 AM

Do you remember that old line? Well, I have been serving in office as one of your county commissioners now for over 2 1/2 months and we are just now figuring that out…I do now know it takes at least two commissioners to have a quorum and I do understand that if we have two or more commissioners present, it is probably a public meeting and we better take notes! We are learning.

As to how many it takes to change a lightbulb, it took all three of us on Thursday. I got to checking into all the dark and unmaintained spots in the courthouse a couple of weeks back and discovered that it has been quite some time since the bulbs have even been changed or checked on. For instance, when it came to replenishing the lights in just the three main landing chandeliers, we had to purchase 96 LED bulbs to get the job done.

Fair to say that maintenance has taken a back seat at the courthouse over the past few years due to shrinking budgets, ever-tightening resources, reduced manpower and shifting priorities. Currently, the courthouse has a rickety roof, cracking stucco, peeling paint, frayed carpets and falling ceiling tiles. The building is plagued with ancient plumbing and failing wiring. And when it comes to appearances, the grand old county courthouse is looking a little worse for wear these days; it has been over 115 years since it was built in 1906 and nearly 50 years since she was last upgraded and restored in 1974.

Good news for local taxpayers… priorities are shifting back, and all three commissioners are unified in their concern for keeping the current historical building in good repair, so taxpayers are not faced with the extra expense of having to fund catastrophic repairs, or, worst case, to even have to consider replacing the building in the next few years. Commissioners Jeff Zimmerman, Tracy Casady and I are unanimous in our desire to protect and restore the courthouse as much as we can with the resources we have and can locate over time. It has been encouraging to hear other elected officials in the courthouse voice similar concerns and aspirations. I am happy to announce that this Board of Commissioners won’t wait until the building requires catastrophic repairs or replacing. That would just be poor stewardship and a waste of taxpayer resources. To get the ball rolling in the right direction, in cooperation with Sheriff Holly Lindsey, we have increased the courthouse maintenance staff manpower, which should allow for full-time maintenance and repairs now, at 40 hours a week, while also allowing the sheriff’s office to receive 40 hours a week of much-needed maintenance on the Public Safety Building as the sheriff and the commissioners seek to prolong the life and functionality of that building as well.

Citizens can expect to actually see steady, small changes starting this week and expanding as time and funding allow over the coming months. Starting with simple things like replacing lightbulbs, some additional cleaning here and there, and initial repairs to the heating/cooling system; we even have plans to restore the old flagpole out front with the help of District No. 3 Road Department staff before the new monument to Shoshone County’s fallen law enforcement officers is installed on the courthouse lawn this spring. Soon to come will be repainting offices one by one — along with public areas, repairing leaking windows, restoring ceiling tiles and sheetrock, and refinishing the antique marble floors. Eventually, we will need to repair the roof, upgrade plumbing and electrical to modern specs and consistent functionality and restore the stucco and paint on the exterior of the building.

The trick in accomplishing any of this is, as always, finding the resources. Property taxes are high already and we understand taxpayers cannot afford any unnecessary increases. The Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) will first look to LACTF funds from last year and this coming year and seek outside grant funding to accomplish the work over time. We are also getting creative with what we have already and taking advantage of a growing volunteer spirit around the courthouse — like the offer by Zach Ayers and the Osburn Road Department Crew to refurbish the flagpole for example.

Bottom line, some good things are happening with your courthouse and county resources; things that will save local taxpayers money in the long run and help provide improved service to the citizenry. It is our aim to increase the morale of the many dedicated employees who work in the courthouse by improving their workspace quality as well as to keep the building reliably serving the citizens of Shoshone County long into the future. We welcome you to stop by on your next trip through Wallace to take a look at the building, the challenges, and some of the initial improvements taking place. IT IS YOUR COURTHOUSE too! And we aim to make you proud of it and pleased with the stewardship of your tax dollars we are trying to demonstrate here.