De­ci­sion on ju­di­cial cen­ter ex­pan­sion tabled

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - DANIELLE EVER­SON deverson@cov­news.com

The New­ton County Board of Com­mis­sion­ers put the brakes on mak­ing a de­ci­sion to pro­ceed with plans for ex­pand­ing the New­ton County Ju­di­cial Cen­ter at their Dec. 18 board meet­ing.

The board unan­i­mously voted to ta­ble a res­o­lu­tion that would au­tho­rize the ex­pan­sion of the New­ton County Ju­di­cial Cen­ter and fi­nanc­ing for the pro­posed project.

County at­tor­ney Tommy Craig gave the board copies of dif­fer­ent sce­nar­ios of fi­nanc­ing op­tions for the project and County man­ager John Mid­dle­ton dis­cussed those op­tions with the board.

Some of the bud­get sce­nar­ios in­cluded elim­i­nat­ing the con­tin­gency fund for the project and even elim­i­nat­ing some of the fix­tures and features to lower the over­all cost.

At the Dec. 4 BOC meet­ing, Row­land David­son of Ly­man David­son and Doo­ley, Inc - the ar­chi­tect for the ex­pan­sion - pre­sented the board with con­struc­tion plans for the project as well as its $9,898,268 bud­get, which ex­ceeded the SPLOST fund­ing for the project, which was al­lo­cated for $7 mil­lion.

Craig re­minded the board at that meet­ing that the BOC agreed not to is­sue rev­enue bonds for SPLOST projects. He sug­gested

that the county use a cer­tifi­cate of par­tic­i­pa­tion, which he said is sim­i­lar to a mort­gage, for the fund­ing needed for the project.

Craig said at that meet­ing that $7 mil­lion would be bor­rowed from the bank or the As­so­ci­a­tion County Com­mis­sioner’s of Ge­or­gia and fi­nance the con­struc­tion over a pe­riod of years.

On Tues­day night, the board of com­mis­sion­ers agreed that it did not want to bond out the pro­posed project and that mov­ing for­ward with the ex­pan­sion and fi­nanc­ing for the project wasn’t some­thing the county needed to do at the present time.

Com­mis­sioner Mort Ewing said he was aware of the need for the ex­pan­sion, but the nearly $9.9 mil­lion for the project was not in the pa­ram­e­ters of the $7 mil­lion con­struc­tion bud­get.

“I would first like to thank Mr. Mid­dle­ton and Mr. Craig for bring­ing this in­for­ma­tion to us and I would also like to thank the judges for coming be­fore this board and ad­vis­ing us as to the cur­rent needs in the ju­di­cial cen­ter. I think we are all aware that in a very short pe­riod of time, rel­a­tively speak­ing, we went from 60,000 peo­ple to 100,000 peo­ple,” Ewing said. “The need for the space is there.”

“How­ever, we are still in a fi­nan­cial cri­sis and the bud­get cri­sis,” Ewing said. “From my per­spec­tive, we were very for­tu­nate to get the ci­ti­zens to ap­prove the 2011 SPLOST so that we could trans­fer a lot of debt obli­ga­tion from the gen­eral fund to the SPLOST. And in that process, the 2011 board, which is this board, promised the peo­ple of the county that if they ap­proved the SPLOST, we would not bond any projects, we would not bor­row any money and we would not pay any penal­ties.”

“While I’m aware of the need I would like to make a mo­tion to ta­ble this for 90 days and ask the new chair­man coming in Jan­uary and the new board, Mr. Craig, Mr. Mid­dle­ton and other staff as needed to go back to the draw­ing board and ask the ar­chi­tects to go back to the draw­ing board and come back with a pro- posal that falls within the money that has been al­lo­cated within that $7 mil­lion.”

Com­mis­sioner Tim Flem­ing echoed the com­ments of Ewing say­ing that the ex­pan­sion was a good project that was needed, but now wasn’t a good time to move for­ward with it.

“To me it just seems that right now is not the time — es­pe­cially for this board; not in the last meet­ing with three of us go­ing out of of­fice,” Flem­ing said. “I don’t think it’s fair to the next board to im­pose this on them.”

“We made a com­mit­ment as a board to the ci­ti­zens of this county that we would not bond any projects and that we would not bor­row any money,” Flem­ing said. “It’s go­ing to put us in the hole and it’s go­ing to cre­ate fund ex­pen­di­tures in this county that we do not have at this time. Rev­enues are con­tin­u­ing to go down and the next board is go­ing to be faced with some hard de­ci­sions with this next bud­get.”

The board unan­i­mously ap­proved Ewing’s mo­tion to ta­ble mak­ing a de­ci­sion on the ex­pan­sion and it’s fi­nanc­ing for 90 days.

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