Over at the Vernon County Courthouse

Wednesday, December 14, 2016


Carrie Poe, Vernon County circuit clerk, has announced her office will be closed Dec. 22 and 23 due to construction work in her office.

"We're installing a service window for security purposes," said Poe.

When facing the front door of the clerk's office, the new window will be to the right.

Since the present main door into the office has a glass plate with an opening in it -- to enable speech -- there will be a total of two places through which the public can be served. Asked if there had been a specific incident leading to this change Poe said, "No. We've been planning this for a while but in this office, we deal with people who are very upset."

Because Poe's office deals with domestic, probate and criminal matters, it is little surprise there are people who come in and are upset.

"Thankfully, we have the bailiff here because more than once we've called on him to escort someone out who was rather agitated," said Poe.

On Thursday and Friday of next week, workers will be drilling through the wall to the right of the entryway door into the clerk's office.

"Since we don't really know what's in that wall, the workers will have to be careful but we do know they will have to drill through concrete," said Poe.

Between the noise and dust, most everything in the office will have to be covered and so, after finding two days in which no court is in session, the first part of the project will be accomplished next week.

While plans call for a 4 feet high by six feet wide window, said Poe, "That might change depending on what they find in the wall. So after they get in there, they'll figure the dimensions, order the window and install it a couple weeks later."

Poe quickly ticked off the arrangements found in other area courthouses declaring Vernon County to be one of the last to make this upgrade.

"It's unfortunate but that's the way society is in this day and age. And better safe than sorry." Poe said.

Down one floor, in the office of the county commission, Joe Hardin, presiding commissioner, commented on several matters, beginning with the calls he and the other commissioners have received about the new contract for housing Springfield city prisoners in the Vernon County jail.

Hardin said he was well aware of some counties whose commission does not have a good relationship with their sheriff.

"We have a very good relationship with our sheriff," said Hardin. "He came to us and explained what happened in other counties and showed us a proposed contract. It includes transportation, a good rate and they will not release any of their prisoners here."

Hardin spoke of the provisions, which include housing a maximum of 10 to 20 prisoners with between one and three transports of prisoners each day, from Monday through Friday, with Vernon County picking up one of them and Springfield handling the rest.

If a prisoner is bailed out in Springfield but is located in jail in Nevada, several options will be available. If another transport will be made that day, the released prisoner will be able to return as part of that trip. If no trips will be made that day, the person can wait till the next day or be returned through a Jefferson Lines bus.

The Vernon County Commission gave unanimous approval to the proposed contract a week ago while the Springfield City Council gave its approval Monday night. Once contracts have been signed, things will begin at a date set by mutual agreement.

Hardin was asked about the refinance of the $10 million in bonds, which financed construction of the present Vernon County Jail. Issued in April of 2008, they are scheduled to be paid off in October 2027.

"After completing a good deal of paperwork and several teleconferences, Standard & Poors gave Vernon County an A+ rating," said Hardin.

There are few counties in Missouri with that high of a financial rating. That says a lot about the financial management of Vernon County.

Commissioners are working with L.J. Hart and Company -- a firm specializing in financing for governments -- to set a closing date for issuance of new bonds, which will bring significant savings to the county.

The presiding commissioner was asked about the county's application for a grant to underwrite the second phase of the courthouse restoration project.

The grant comes from a revolving fund administered by the State Historic Preservation Office, which is part of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

"Last year, SHPO gave us what they call an architectural survey grant," said southern commissioner, Everett Wolfe. "It was $25,000 and we used it to determine what needs to be repaired and how much it will cost."

"Because we had a good hunch about what the problems were, we asked the firm doing the survey to spread it over several years," said Hardin. "Repairs and restoration on a courthouse doesn't come cheap and we have to pay part of the cost."

The Springfield based architectural firm gave the commission a three-phased plan for repairs. Phase one addresses repair of stone entrances and the foundation wall on two sides. Phase two calls for the replacement of some windows and other items while phase three would repair water damaged plaster and paint certain interior areas.

"We received a grant of $120,000 to cover the cost of phase one repairs," said Hardin. "The county kicks in $36,000 and the state portion is $84,000."

And as to the phase two grant?

Said Hardin, "We've received word it was tentatively approved. Sometimes that means we're only getting partial funding but anything we receive gets more of the work done and that keeps this building functional and looking good."

Next door, in the office of the Vernon County Clerk, Mike Buehler said, "My office just finished the last things for the November election and then yesterday, filing opened for candidates in the municipal election on April 4, 2017."

Candidate filing for such offices as school boards, aldermen, city council, township positions, road and water district offices will remain open until 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 17.

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