Ehlers says courthouse benefits outweigh cost to county’s taxpayers

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 19, 2002

Paul Ehlers, a retired Workforce Center manager, likes to visit historical buildings in surrounding communities. Back home, he enjoys walking around Fountain Lake or the Blazing Star Bike Trail.

The courthouse project is projected to add $168 to his tax bill annualy over the next 20 years. As a retiree with a fixed income, the amount is not necessarily negligible for him. But Ehlers is willing to bear that cost, because he thinks what the value the project will bring to him and the community outweighs the expenditure.

Ehlers’ primary interest in the project is to preserve the old courthouse, built in 1888, as a community landmark.

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&uot;I see the old courthouse as a way to have a historically significant building in downtown,&uot; Elhers said. He has seen in many communities’ courthouses function as the centerpiece of town, offering the residents pride in their history. &uot;We have to know where we came from. To me, taking care of old buildings is kind of like taking care of your own house or your own car.&uot;

&uot;Somebody at one time spent a lot of money to make those decorative and attractive. They did not have to put on ornamentation or any of the big round windows,&uot; said Ehlert. &uot;They did that out of the sense of pride. I would like to preserve some of those sense of pride our founding fathers and community had here.&uot;

A referendum on the courthouse would result in pushing up his tax by $107, if it passed, because of an exemption on farmland under the different kind of bonds that would be used. But that difference is not Ehlers’ reason to oppose a referendum.

Ehlers’ concern is that negativism would dominate the voters, which may result in killing an emerging sentiment in the community in support of change.

&uot;Too many times referendums are settled on the basis of misinformation,&uot; Ehlers said. &uot;A lot of times referendums are decided by who can scream the loudest. Sometimes, unfortunately, it’s bad information. But a lot of people in the public do not know that.&uot;

&uot;It does take away a part of the responsibility of our elected officials. They should be the ones who make a decision. That’s why we elect them. They have to get the best information they can get and they should be operating for the best interest of citizens,&uot; he added.

Ehlert said he has never been more excited in his 21 years of residency in town, seeing the increasing voice of action in the county and city for downtown redevelopment, lake improvement and other issues.

He believes many people in the community feel frustrated by the absence of government initiative in major public projects over the past two decades. &uot;I think we are seeing the needs are being recognized, or at least talked about. It seems like we came to a critical mass.&uot;

&uot;I know there are people who think, ‘Boy, (this is) too much and too fast,” Ehlers said. &uot;But I don’t think 21 years of doing nothing really means we are moving too quickly.&uot;

Ehlers admits those projects could take a long time to bear fruit, and understands many retired people will not have a chance to harvest their results.

&uot;We worked hard. We raised our kids. Now let’s just sit back and relax.” I know there are a lot of people in that situation in Freeborn County,&uot; Ehlers said. &uot;But as long as I am in Albert Lea, I want to get involved in something that can bring positive things to our community.&uot;