To the Editor:
The Pike County Commissioners' implied suggestion that they engaged in any serious debate or community discussion on the proposed massive Courthouse and Criminal Justice Center addition to Pike’s historic Courthouse is a farce. They only have engaged the public when Concerned Pike Taxpayers members attended the Commissioners bi-weekly meetings and managed to get a few minutes to ask questions, which the Commissioners then often evaded or dismissed.
They declined to provide documentation to support the assumptions underlying their plan, refused to have a community forum or formally meet with citizens concerned with the issue and have sought to obfuscate the issue in the media.
Because Concerned Pike Taxpayers' "open letter" opposing their plan has nearly 500 signatures, from every Pike municipality, the Commissioners call us the "1%", appropriating language from the Occupy movement to imply signers of the letter are affluent. They claim opposition to the plan comes only from "Milford elites," a tired phrase cynically used to frame important local political discussions in class warfare terms.
The economic viability of the county seat affects everyone in Pike. Milford is our front door, our calling card, introducing Pike to visitors, investors and companies considering relocating and bringing jobs to our area. To deface it with an oversize Big Box criminal justice complex, cutting the guts out of an important National Historic District, is a travesty.
The proposed expansion will profoundly degrade the importance, appeal and economic value of that historic district, diminishing Pike’s tourism appeal. It may even threaten the viability of Milford's private sector commercial sector—and its attendant employment--erode quality of life and hurt property values.
Their plan also may be a death-knell for hard-won historic protections that have greatly-benefited Milford and Pike County. It will take Milford another step towards becoming another Pennsylvania county seat “ghost town,” with little private sector economic activity and few jobs except those in county government.
On their way to a gutted commercial district and dilapidated housing, many of those county seats had leadership that thought it was smart to build a gigantic jail, courthouse or administration building in their county seat's center. Big Box government buildings in historic small towns are not efficient; they’re deadly.
Years from now Commissioners Caridi, Wagner and Osterberg will be remembered for the mistake that destroyed the heart of an historic district that is one of Pike county's most important assets.
Over the past two decades, Pike County came together in a beautiful way to inspire county-wide pride in our county seat, by improving its public spaces, investing thousands of hours and millions of dollars into certifying and improving its historic district and launching a countywide historic preservation trust.
Not long ago, the Commissioners commissioned and paid for an exhaustive comprehensive county plan; several hundred citizens participated in its creation. It is replete with references to the importance of protecting and improving the Milford's National Historic District as a priority for the whole county, because of its economic effect and how it contributes to quality of life. Now that plan is being ignored.
I hope Pike taxpayers will look closely at the size of what the Commissioners have proposed; many believe it need not be so large. Do we need more space for a "training center"; after just spending more than $7 million to build a county emergency training center? Do we need 18 new bathrooms (that's separate bathrooms, not individual toilet stalls)? Might a different architect find a more efficient way to address the need with less space?
These are questions that need to be asked. But they need to be asked by a lot of people, not just by a handful of us.
We need an open process and professional planning, based on Pike County's current population projections, to determine what we must do to have a safe and efficient courts system.