Chester Co. leaders OK bond for move

CHESTER -- Most Chester County offices will be moving from the downtown courthouse to the J.A. Cochran By-Pass.

The Chester County Council unanimously decided Monday night to borrow up to $3 million to pay for the bypass building along with other items and projects such as police cars and renovations to the Great Falls Memorial Building.

Although the move to buy a building was hailed by county leaders as a way to ease their growing pains and allow residents to handle lots of business in one place, some residents objected, saying the shift would hurt downtown business.

Nearly a dozen people spoke at Monday night's meeting, and all but two did not want council members to put their final stamp on the decision.

Some residents were staunchly opposed to the move, but most just wanted to hear more information, particularly about what impact borrowing the money would have on their taxes.

"I'm not for this," said downtown businessman Tom Kellerhals, owner of the Westminster Group. "I'm not opposed to it. I don't know enough about it."

Former County Councilman William Stephenson said there are other important issues that should be addressed, such as the need for a new jail.

"We need to rethink this," he said. "We do not need this building out there."

But the move had its supporters, too.

City Councilwoman Betty Bagley said she thought the advantages of buying the building from Omnova Solutions and moving outweighed the disadvantages.

"I worked there 43 years," she said. "I know the building inside and out. The building is in good condition."

Leaders have highlighted the Omnova facility's features, including its 29,580 square feet, 60 offices and 122 parking spaces. County leaders plan to move numerous county offices and the council chambers to the bypass building.

"If we are to grow, we need to take this step," Bagley said.

The council will pay for the project through general obligation bonds.

Before the final vote, Chester County Supervisor Carlisle Roddey asked county finance director Becky Moon to discuss the list of items and projects that the bond would cover. During her talk, Moon was asked what the tax increase would be on an owner-occupied home valued at $50,000.

She said it would be about $8.

During their discussion about the issue, leaders said they understood the concerns of citizens, but believed they were making the right choice.

"It would be a missed opportunity if we didn't take advantage of it," said Councilman Joe Branham.

Although the council approved borrowing up to $3 million, they will likely need about $2,700,500, with $1.4 million for the building, $50,000 for furnishings and another $50,000 for upfittings. The remaining money is marked for purchases ranging from county vehicles to a fingerprinting machine for the jail.