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Finance board cements referendum on courthouse plan
Litchfield.bz (11-30-18)


Voters in Litchfield will finally have a say on a proposal to turn the former Litchfield County courthouse into a town hall.
 
A referendum on the plan will be held Dec. 19. Voters will consider accepting a gift of the building from its owner, the Greater Litchfield Preservation Trust, and approving up to $7.6 million to convert the structure.
 
A special town meeting on the proposal will be held Dec. 11 and will be adjourned to a referendum. The meeting will afford voters a final chance to comment on the proposal, which does not have the support of the Board of Selectmen.
 
The Board of Finance set the special town meeting and referendum scenario in motion on Thursday by approving a resolution authorizing bonding to finance the courthouse project, if voters approve it in the referendum.
 
The board’s vote was unanimous and came on the heels of the board voting on Nov. 13 to reject a similar resolution for a project involving construction of a new town hall for $9.2 million.
 
Selectmen on Nov. 6 chose the $9.2 million plan over the $7.6 million plan, even though the proposal for the courthouse had been recommended to the selectmen by the town hall review committee.
 
The finance board’s action followed, as did a petition by the GLPT that forced selectmen to call a special town meeting and referendum on the $7.6 million plan.
 
For a referendum to take place on either plan, the finance board had to approve a resolution authorizing bonding. It was up to the finance board, under state law, to determine if bonding for a town hall project would overburden taxpayers.
 
The town hall review committee spent 10 months studying the proposal for the courthouse and the plan to build a new town hall before deciding to recommend the courthouse plan. The committee also ruled out a plan to expand and renovate Town Hall at a cost of $11 million.
 
Also on the ballot for the Dec. 19 referendum will be a proposal by the Board of Selectmen to transfer the former Bantam School property to the Litchfield Housing Trust. The housing trust would create 24 units of affordable housing on the property, with 14 rental apartments being in the building and 10 ownership homes on the grounds.