Commissioners look to wrap up listening sessions on expansion, restoration project

Madison County commissioners held a community meeting Tuesday afternoon at the Broadway Annex in Virginia City to take public comment on regarding the need for additional office and storage space and handicap accessible facilities in the courthouse.

Similar meetings were held at different locations throughout the county beginning earlier this month to allow the board of commissioners to hear the taxpayer’s suggestions on how the issue should be addressed. For the board, being transparent about how and where tax dollars are spent is a high priority.

A few years back, voters rejected initial plans for a multi-million dollar law and justice center. The current proposal steps away from a full-scale law and justice center and focuses on needed remodels and upgrades to the existing courthouse. The proposal includes installing an elevator in the courthouse, adding an archive repository in the county library and building office and storage space across the street from the courthouse.

When commissioner Dan Happel joined Dave Schulz and Jim Hart in January, he wanted to make sure the board had full support from the taxpayers before moving forward with the project.

“I think most people realize that we’ve got issues up here with the old courthouse,” he said. “I just wanted to make sure that if we go forward with the courthouse annex or the ADA repairs and stuff like that that we’ve got the people behind that.”

The first meetings were held Aug. 9 in Alder and Sheridan. The following Wednesday the board went to Pony, Cardwell and Harrison, and last week they met in Twin Bridges and Ennis.

Happel explained the board wants to get the most out of the taxpayer’s money.

“The commissioners are very careful and will be very thoughtful in the way we handle this project,” he said, adding that they want to make sure that “we don’t over step the needs of the county beyond what we see as real needs.”

Fellow commissioner Jim Hart said it’s a process of determining how to best serve the wants and needs of the voters.

“That’s why we’re going out and about to get some feedback,” Hart said. “We want to be as open as we can about two things: where we think might be a viable direction to head, and keep everybody involved so that they’re not all of a sudden going ‘Now what the heck are those commissioners up to?’”

The meetings have gone well and suggestions from the community have been very helpful, Happel said.

“For the most part everybody seems to be extremely supportive of making some exploratory moves and see just exactly what we can do to take care of the office and administrative issues,” Happel said. “We have these public meetings so that we can let people know that, and also so that if people are adamantly against this stuff, we want to know.”

While the community meetings have been helpful, the board will continue to approach the project one step at a time.

“We have some figuring to do yet, especially on the financial end of things,” Hart said.

The Madison County commissioners next scheduled community meeting on the topic is Sept. 6 at Huntley Lodge in Big Sky beginning at 10 a.m. Meetings are open to the public and the board encourages the community to attend.

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