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Judicial Center expansion will exceed SPLOST revenues

COVINGTON -- Commissioners received an update on the proposed expansion of the Newton County Judicial Center at Tuesday's board meeting.

The board heard from Rowland Davidson of Lyman Davidson Dooley Inc. in Atlanta, architect for the project, on the multi-phase plan developed during the past year with the input of judges and staff at the Judicial Center.

SPLOST will fund the expansion; $7 million has been allocated in SPLOST revenues for the project. The construction budget is estimated at less than that, at almost $6.9 million. However, furniture, fixtures and equipment, audio and visual equipment, security systems, architectural and engineering fees and other components of the expansion could increase the budget to nearly $9 million and a recommended contingency of $900,000 would further increase it to nearly $9.9 million. The source of those additional funds has not been identified, according to County Manager John Middleton.

Phase 1 will be funded through the 2011 SPLOST and will include a lower level with a sally port and holding cells for inmates and an office for bailiffs. There will be separate holding areas for juveniles and adults.

The current Judicial Center has two separate entrances, and one has been closed due to security concerns, creating some confusion for visitors on which door to enter, said Davidson. A new main entrance will be created with the two current entryways closed off and the lobbies reassigned for a different use, he said. There will be two lines for security check-in to speed up the process.

The expansion will include a new and larger juvenile courtroom. The current courtroom will be reassigned to Magistrate Court space, Davidson said. A new, secure entrance will be provided for judges and staff.

On the second floor, a new check-in point for impaneling of jurors will be included. A new jury impaneling room will have increased capacity with 250 seats, with the current impaneling room converted into a fourth courtroom for Superior Court. Three new judges' chambers will also be added.

A third floor expansion will be put off for the future. The Clerk of Court office will eventually be expanded, the District Attorney's Office would be moved to a new space, and a grand jury room would be added, Davidson said.

All told, about 35,000 square feet is proposed to be added to the current structure, which opened in 1999. "Our goal is to say this would be a seamless addition to the project. It would match the current architecture and blend in so we would not know it was ever expanded," Davidson said.

Judge Samuel Ozburn, who was joined at the meeting by Judges Ken Wynne and Horace Johnson, asked commissioners to allow the project to move forward as soon as possible. Ozburn said more than 154,000 people have visited the Judicial Center this year. "That's 50 percent bigger than the population of this county," he said.

When the Judicial Center opened, there were three Superior Court judges; now there are five, but still only three courtrooms, he said. Judges are having to reschedule and delay jury trials, which results in an increase in cost to taxpayers, creating a backlog at the jail and increasing costs to keep inmates there, he said.

Current courtrooms are not big enough, he said, noting that sometimes there are 50 to 75 people on the calendar and not everyone can get into the courtroom.

County Attorney Tommy Craig recommended the county use a certificate of participation to fund the project, noting that commissioners agreed not to issue revenue bonds for any SPLOST project. Craig said a certificate of participation works like a mortgage. The county would borrow the $7 million from a bank or other entity, like the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, and finance construction over five years at a low interest rate. The budget for the project does not cover interest rates, he noted.

Craig said his reason is that, "Construction costs less now than it's going to a few years from now when the funds are in hand. Interest rates are exceedingly low and it may be that the savings on construction costs more than offset the cost of interest." Craig said when the project is bid, commissioners will have more of an idea of how much of the contingency is needed.

Commissioners did not take any action related to the presentation.

Comments

dennistay53 1 year, 4 months ago

What a surprise, it is going OVER budget. People are we going to continue passing these SPLOST when our commissioners and government can't be trusted to bring them in at budget? We can't repair our roads and they keep looking to borrow money that we the taxpayer and our children will have to pay back. Commissioners, in case you have not noticed the economy is still poor and taxpayers continue to struggle. Craig is not an elected official. The SPLOST passed by the voters agrees for $7 million for this project and that should be all allowed. If the judges have to hold court in shifts than that is what should be done to keep at $7 million. We have got to get Craig out of our government.

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dennistay53 1 year, 4 months ago

People please read the article in this paper dated Feb 24, 2011 titled SPLOST. If the price of this project has gone up from $7 million to $9.9 million in less than 2 years something is terribly wrong. These are bad economic times. People are buying property for less money than they ever dreamed they could. People are working for less money than they ever thought they would have to. Yet this has gone up by 2.9 billion dollars. Either the voters were lied to when the SPLOST was voted on or someone is making more money on this project than they should during these times. Tommy Craig isn't an expert on the economy. No one knows what the economy will be like years down the road. Things may even be cheaper. Not many figured the economy would be this poor for this long. There has to be a start to fiscal responsibility with Newton County government at some point. Why not rebid this project to see if someone will do it all for the $7 million. There are plenty of unemployed in Newton County who would probably work cheaper than they did a few years ago.

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dennistay53 1 year, 4 months ago

Anyone who voted for the 2011 SPLOST should be as upset as i am about what they are trying to do here. If they go through with this it will mean that the voters will have been lied to. In 2011 we were told that this would be for $7 million. We were told that it wouldn,t be bonded. We were told that construction wouldn't start until year 4 or later when money for this had been collected and in hand. The certification of participation Craig is refering to is nothing but a clever ploy to get around the no bond promise by the commissioner. It is nothing more than a loan whereas the taxpayers of Newton County will have to pay the interest and whatever goes above the $7 million SPLOST allocation through property tax. Don't take my word. Read the article written in this paper on Feb 24 2011. If they go through with this it will mean that we were mislead in the least, on the 2011 SPLOST.

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RV30015 1 year, 4 months ago

This county is outrageous. As if the NSP workman's liens on those houses and the alleged misappropriation of federal funds is not enough. Add the destructive school system and the constant crime in this town to the mismanagement of SPLOST here. I will VOTE NO ON EDUCATION SPLOST and all other SPLOSTS from here on out and will ask every single resident I see to do the same. We have got to get school system M & O and bond under control. Our millage is maxed out and the garbage spewing from these government morons is not being bought by me. NO MORE MONEY TO THIS GOVERNMENT. And that means no more money, BOC, to the Newton Chamber as well promising things and delivering IHOPS and Waffle Houses.

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John 1 year, 4 months ago

Heck, I wish we had an IHOP or even a Cracker Barrel that was "supposed" build two different times near the Hampton Inn but something happened -twice.

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John 1 year, 4 months ago

Here we go again with the six P's of OUR government actions. They are Pretty Poor Planning equals Pretty Poor Performance. (I cleaned it up a bit). These folks must have been educated in the NCSS & earned two or three liberal arts degrees from "match book" universities. In the day when i was growing up books of matches would carry advertising and some would say "Earn Your Degree" in 6 months.

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Covingtonian 1 year, 4 months ago

This entire plan needs to be carefully looked at from finances to the proposed expansion. Whether or not it is feasible to have court in shifts, i doubt it. I do know that the current judicial center is to small, quite possibly this is from a lack or thorough planning.from the outset. The courtrooms themselves or to small, sometimes there are so many defendants that family, supporters or just observers have to wait outside the courtroom until the person they came to court for is called before the judge. I personally have never attended court proceedings anywhere else in state or out of state where this was the case including Fulton County. With crime increasing there will be a need for more room. Maybe we need to seek input from others, be it citizens, contractors, law enforcement and elected officials for ideas on funding and expanding the facility.

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dennistay53 1 year, 4 months ago

Bottom line- We were lied to in order to get the 2011 SPLOST passed. They do not deserve another SPLOST in Newton County. If you can do nothing else you should be Honest. At one time DeKalb County had court at night as they were growing. Why did they tear down the Patrick building only a few years after building it and spending millions. I'd like to build additions to my home to since my grandchild moved in but i can't afford it. Fiscal responsibility. Judges of all people should know the importance of being honest to the citizens. My father who just died at the age of 97 always told us, Always do what you say you gonna do, be honest and go to church.

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John 1 year, 4 months ago

It would be interesting to know what extra efforts, if any, were taken to attempt to bring the TOTAL project costs in at budget. Rather than just a flat statement it will exceed SPLOT revenues (which are other peoples money). This group seems to have no accountability or responsibility except to themselves. Having convenientally forgot the cost of furnishings, security systems, etc. for a New Building is par for the course in NC, it's like forgetting to have lights for the athletic field for the new NHS. Maybe, it is something in the water or this is the real Mayberry R.F.D. Sure hope Baxter International doesn't read this article on how well our commissioners run Newton County - they might stop breaking ground..

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dennistay53 1 year, 4 months ago

@John this is what upsets me the most about this. You probably have the most sense of anyone posting here. On the 2011 SPLOST fact sheets posted at the Newton County Commissioners website this is what is stated. $7 million for Judicial Center expansion No bonds to be let for any 2011 SPLOST project The expansion will not start until year 4 or 5 when funds are on hand. The commissioners, Craig, even the judges know what is on these sheets. Why would they even think about deceiving the voters by asking for this to start now on borrowed money? Is this not playing the voters as fools?

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John 1 year, 4 months ago

dennisstay53, Until there is a measuring stick & accountability built into these "government" officials job descriptions, they are always going to give us "popcorn talk (lot of air no substance) & spend like "drunken sailors" - 'cause they think they are "smarter" than the folks of Newton County. Some of us were educated in yesterday's school system where we actually learned the 3 R's and knew what "step out in the hall, bend over & grab your ankle meant" and at home (a farm) actually sweated a lot, all day, for little or no pay and chores came first, eat then homework, then go to bed. TV time was limited to Sunday nights (Disney & Bonanza).

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dennistay53 1 year, 4 months ago

We were promised no borrowing that the money would be spent only as it came in.Now less than 2 years after SPLOST is passed they are talking about borrowing the money wheras the interest payments will fall on the property owners. Is this what we are paying hugh amounts of tax money to Craig for. To help find away to get around (lie) to the citizens of this county?

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dennistay53 1 year, 4 months ago

They can't plan the cost of court house expansion less than 2 years out yet they are the ones to lead us in the 2050 plan?

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dennistay53 1 year, 4 months ago

Thats it NO MORE SPLOST for these liars. I will pull out my check book on future SPLOSTS to stop them. If the judges can take the time to beg for more money at the commissioner meetings why can't they go into the Clerk of Court office and ask her to send the passport administration fees she has been keeping for years to the county coffers to help out.

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dennistay53 1 year, 4 months ago

Just one more point of interest on this. Why was this brought up at this time? Two commissioners will be leaving after the next meeting. Two probably more conservative commissioners will be taking their place. One has promised to NEVER vote for a tax increase. If this is passed it will be a tax increase because the property owners will be responsible for the over runs as well as the loan interest. By law the interest can't be paid by SPLOST unless it was included in the legal organ postings before this went to the voters. IT had to be posted as well as the cost of the interest payments year to year. I am real interested in how the two outgoing commissioners will vote if it comes up at the next meeting as i expect.

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Billy 1 year, 3 months ago

Hmmm, even with Republicans, you STILL get pork. That's why I vote GOP, for lower taxes and spending. Somehow, local officials never get the message. Spend, spend, spend. Democrats are even worse, so there seems to be no alternative. Even that guy who ran that charity in Walton County went bad. The temptations of office must be irresistable. I lived in Henry County prior to Newton; same old spendthrift nonsense. Don't know what the solution is. People born and raised in the 60s and 70s think money grows on trees, that the WWII post war victory spoils that have long since been gone can still be figured into the deal. Sorry, folks, but the good ole days of the US being properous left and right are GONE. We need to get used to lower goverment spending and doing more for ourselves. Certainly a contrary message considering who we just elected President, but reality has a way of forcing itself on the situation, and before long, all of you are going to be shocked at how low the average standard of living will be. Better learn how to garden, ride a bicycle, and shop at the closest DG because gasoline will be twice what it is now. It's coming, no way possible to avoid it, so you Pilgrims had better start getting prepared...

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