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Repairing the courthouse

July 13, 2012
By STACEY KUKKONEN - DMG writer ( , The Daily Mining Gazette

EAGLE RIVER - The Keweenaw County Board of Commissioners will be asking voters to approve a millage on the August primary ballot to preserve the historical courthouse and grounds in Eagle River.

"The county courthouse, jail, carriage house and grounds are all in need of attention," said county commissioner Don Pichs. "A priority list has been created with the help of a local engineering firm."

The millage, to appear on the ballot in August, asks "Shall the 15 mill tax limitation on general ad valorem taxes within the county of Keweenaw be increased for said county by .5 mills (50 cents per thousand of taxable value) for the years of 2012-15 inclusive for courthouse/jail buildings and grounds improvements, which will raise $64,633 in the first year?"

Article Photos

Stacey Kukkonen/Daily Mining Gazette
The Keweenaw County Board of Commissioners will be asking voters to approve a millage on the August primary ballot to preserve the historical courthouse and grounds in Eagle River. Some of the damage to the siding and roof is seen here.

The county recently received an Americana Foundation Grant of $40,000 for repairs and restoration. A percentage of matching money is required.

"The roof will be done this summer and the deadline is Aug. 31," Piche said.

At the commission meeting Wednesday in Eagle River, a contractor will be chosen and the project will begin with the target completion date of Aug. 31.

The millage would assist in various projects yet to be started. OHM of Hancock estimated the project to be about $185,000 for roofing and siding, which is in dire need of repair.

Every time there is a strong wind or storm, siding is pulled from the building and shingles have been littering the grounds for years.

Additionally, the board asked Honeywell to assess energy in the building and eventually, the grounds, including the courthouse and sheriff's building, will need new furnaces, lighting and insulation, Piche said.

"The reason we're going after this millage is because we basically have no money," Piche said. "That bid came in at $325,000 and we just cannot afford to do that project."

If the millage passes, the funding will be used to repair the siding and get new furnaces, in addition to completely removing and replacing the roof.

"Also, these buildings have to be somewhat insulated," he said. "The roof here was insulated but it still isn't enough. ... We have a moisture problem that needs to be resolved, too."

If approved, .5 mills would be added to the millage rate that is multiplied by the taxable value to determine what a household's bill will be. The taxable value was introduced with the passage of Proposal A in 1994. The taxable value can only increase by the rate of inflation or 5 percent - whichever is less - annually.

According to information from the county clerk Julie Carlson, the average taxable value for residential property is $31,936 and $58,558 for commercial property in Keweenaw County. With the passage of the millage, the increase on the average bill would be $15.97 for residential property and $29.28 on commercial property. The average taxable value for timber cutover is $25,097 and the average increase would be $12.55.

"The last time we painted was back in 2003 at a cost of $29,000," said Ricky Thomas, who does maintenance at the grounds. "It didn't hold up."

Piche said it's unknown how long it's been since a roofing and siding project has been done at the courthouse, as it could have been more than 50 years ago. In the early 2000s, the courtroom was equipped with new windows and fresh paint. In the '90s, the brick fencing was put up around the grounds.

"The millages are successful," Carlson said.

Piche stressed the importance of preserving the courthouse, as it is listed on the Michigan Historical Record and business is conducted at the building every day.

"This is our county seat," he said. "This is a beautiful building that has been neglected."

Within the last year, the board of commissioners was able to stop the bleeding from the general fund for expenses at the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge and the plan now is to build up the general fund for this restoration project.

"That has stopped and that will never happen again," Piche said. "The mountain lodge is holding its own to a point."

The Michigan primary election is Aug. 7.



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