The Augusta County Board of Supervisors continues to assert that the re-assessment of 2009 was accurate. News Virginian reporter, Jerry Blair, has chronicled how, even now with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, the board is determined to prove the unprovable: that the 2009 County reassessment was competent.

In this case they are shaking their collective fists at no less than the Virginia Supreme Court. They are “mulling” an appeal of the Court’s finding: “McKee’s evidence is sufficient to rebut the (county’s) presumption that the assessments were correct.”

What will it cost? Legal fees, expert witnesses, a harming of the county’s relationship with one of its finest employers, all in a last gasp attempt to justify the unjustifiable.

Two of today’s members, Chairman Garber and Supervisor Coleman, in 2008 were ardent supporters for the largest increase of property values in the history of Augusta County. This at the same time the nation and people of Augusta were enduring the greatest financial downturn since the Great Depression.

Supervisor board meetings were filled with angry protestors concerning the absurdity of the new values. The real estate market was plummeting, 401k accounts were floundering, unemployment heading to heights unseen in decades, but these leaders held fast — everybody else was wrong.

County schools were subsequently penalized $1.2 million annually because the state used the County’s artificially boosted wealth as justification for reductions. The County has lost big tax cases to both Hershey and McKee. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent on legal defenses.

I bring this up to illustrate how poor decisions by a Board can have lasting consequences. To alert you that this past mistake will pale in significance if the Board is allowed to go forward with their proposed Courthouse in Staunton. And to state the obvious: Garber and Coleman remain in office and uninterested in public opinion or critical data.

The proof is seen with the deception used to initiate the $70 million Augusta Courthouse. Rather than informing the public of the intention to spend $5 million for architectural plans, the Garber led Board snuck through a vote that was neither announced as coming nor publicly justified.

In 2016 the people did reject a $45 million Courthouse for Verona. But to read this as justification for a $70 million expenditure is not to know the voters. We are a conservative small government people who believe in funding needs, not extravagances. If it takes 7 years before another vote, so be it. Each year until then means $4 million can be banked for the eventual lower cost build.

This proposal is insufficiently safe, the destruction of existing work space causes millions in waste, it sentences the Augusta citizenry to a century of parking woes and other inconveniences, it denies Verona its promised “Judicial Complex”, and it carries a price tag that would “gag a maggot.” So what’s not to like?

But before shovels hit dirt, we need an assessment of the security protections forfeited with a Staunton build. Moving forward, without a comparative study of security standards and threat mitigations offered by the first Verona concept versus the proposed Staunton build, is to fail to do your job.

The postage stamp sized city lot will cause concern as it prevents a secure perimeter, a significant buffer, and precautionary vehicular distancing (think Oklahoma City). By building within inches of a hotel, a deranged individual (think Las Vegas concert killings) can surreptitiously set up a bomb shop or firing range for easy assault on the court or its patrons.

And who among us does not see the inherent risks when moving inmates to court, in vans on public streets; as opposed to transferring within a campus never leaving the secured area? (Think Lee Harvey Oswald meets Jack Ruby)

Finally there is the worry related to construction in a flood plain atop flowing water. Does building on a river pose additional and nearly unique security challenges? (Who does this?) Will security precautions, engineered to prevent bombs from floating beneath the courts, impact the unfettered flow of water? Will water then back-up more quickly leading to more severe downtown flooding?

You may think me an alarmist but how many tragedies have to happen before we understand the minds of the malevolent are imaginative and random? And that Mother Nature is relentless?

The Augusta County Board owes it to us, and posterity, a professional evaluation of what risks are posed in a Staunton construction as opposed to Verona. Not just dollars are at risk, but lives as well.

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Tracy Pyles, a former chairman and member of the Augusta County Board of Supervisors who lives in Augusta County, is a columnist for The News Virginian. His column is published Sundays.

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