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Spotsylvania County's historic courthouse area will have new sidewalks after all.
The county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted 4-3 to reverse its decision last month to reject a $1.27 million federal grant for the second and third phases of the Courthouse Streetscape Project.
Supervisors Timothy McLaughlin, David Ross and Paul Trampe--all of whom were elected last year on fiscally conservative platforms--cast the dissenting votes. They reiterated their concerns about federal spending, and said the project isn't worth what the county's paying for it.
"It's not free," McLaughlin said. "It's taxpayers' money, and if we don't change the way we do business in this country we're going to go broke, and we're not going to be the same country that we were."
Ross said he likes the plan for sidewalks, but called the cost crazy.
The federal grant--in addition to $317,000 in local dollars--is for about half a mile of sidewalks to connect the Circuit Court Judicial Center to the Confederate Cemetery and the Holbert Building to Courthouse Village. The work is expected to be finished about two years from now.
The county has already spent $32,906, mostly for surveying land. That's in addition to the $350,000 in federal money and $87,000 in local funds for the first phase of the sidewalks project, which was completed in 2007.
Board Chairwoman Ann Heidig, a Republican who voted against the grant last month, was the swing vote on Tuesday. The sidewalks, she said, will enhance tourism and benefit residents during the Stars and Stripes Spectacular, historical re-enactments and other events.
Other localities will take the money if Spotsylvania turns it down, Heidig said.
"I don't believe it's a sidewalk to nowhere," she said, referencing a statement from a board member opposed to the project. "I sort of see it as a sidewalk to the future."
County staff has responded to money concerns by pursuing a change that, if approved by the Virginia Department of Transportation, would shave about $250,000 from the project.
Becky Golden, director of capital projects management, has proposed eliminating barrier curbs and a storm sewer from the sidewalk that will connect the Holbert Building to Courthouse Village.
For that to work, the sidewalk would have to be about 15 feet from Brock Road, she said.
The staff also suggested allocating only hotel tax revenue--which must be spent on tourism efforts--and money from the county's sidewalk fund for the $317,000 local share of the project. Previously, much of that money was to come from the general fund.
Heidig said the general fund should be spent on public safety and education--not sidewalks. She criticized staff for finding another funding plan only after supervisors raised concerns, calling it a disregard for taxpayers.
She also said staff didn't initially provide enough information about the project, such as its economic impact.
Supervisor Gary Skinner said he had already been approached by officials elsewhere who are interested in the federal grant. "They are waiting out there ready to ask for this when we turn it back."
Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402