Judicial Center expansion tabled

COVINGTON -- County commissioners tabled a proposal to move forward with the expansion of the Newton County Judicial Center at their Dec. 18 meeting.

Commissioners expressed concern about the fact that budget estimates for the project exceed the SPLOST allocation.

Voters approved the 2011 SPLOST with a $7 million allocation for the expansion. The construction budget is estimated at less than that, at almost $6.9 million. However, that does not include the cost for furniture, fixtures and equipment, audio and visual equipment, security systems, architectural and engineering fees and other components of the expansion, plus a $900,000 contingency to cover any additional unforeseen costs, which would bring the budget to almost $9.9 million. Without the contingency, the budget would be reduced to just shy of $9 million, and excluding furniture, fixtures and equipment, it would come in at about $8.6 million. County Manager John Middleton noted that there is a shortfall of funding in all of those scenarios. Middleton previously said the source of the additional funds has not been identified.

County Attorney Tommy Craig previously suggested 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 money 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.

District 1 Commissioner Mort Ewing said that while additional space is needed at the judicial center, the board promised residents it would not borrow money for any projects. He noted that SPLOST 2011 includes debt service that is being transferred from the general fund to SPLOST for other projects.

Ewing recommended tabling the proposal for 90 days and having the new chairman and board, along with the county attorney and county manager, "go back to the drawing board and come up with a proposal that falls within the money that has been allocated."

"We thought we were dealing with good numbers when we placed the $7 million in the proposal. With the downturn in the economy, and construction as slow as it is, I have a difficult time understanding why a $7 million project has all of a sudden become $9.8 million," he said.

District 5 Commissioner Tim Fleming said he agrees the expansion is a good project, but said it's not fair to approve a project that is over budget with no identified source of additional funding for the next board heading into office.

"It's not a good time to move forward with this project. We made a commitment we wouldn't bond or borrow any money. This further gets us in the hole and creates further expenditures that the county doesn't have at this time ... to me what's wrong with this country today is politicians make commitments to voters, to citizens, and don't hold up their end of the bargain. They tell them what they want to hear and do exactly the opposite."

Fleming said if the board does not keep its word to voters, it may be difficult to pass another SPLOST.

The board unanimously voted to table a resolution to authorize the expansion.


henrystamm 2 years, 6 months ago

Ups what happened the board is actually thinking of not overspending! First thing the new board need to do is change architectural firm.


dennistay53 2 years, 6 months ago

You are exactly right Mr Fleming. If you lie to the voters you WILL have problems passing another SPLOST. You are also right Mr Ewing. This should now be a dead issue and be done in the time and amount as money comes available. It is good to see at least two commissioners understand that they with the voters run the county and not Mr Craig. It is also time to tell the citizens the truth about the courthouse. Newton County does not have 5 judges and 5 chambers. The Alcovy Judicial System has 5 judges and 2 courthouses. One in Walton County and one in Newton County. There are more than 5 chambers when you count both courthouses. This should not have been even tabled. It should have been VOTED DOWN.


John 2 years, 6 months ago

Here is a novel, based on a time proven assumption, that ALL new buildings do not need ALL new furnishings (desk, chairs, equipment - I am assuming equipment means computers and stuff like that). Some of the stuff that employees currently have are fully, functional & operational - just not shiny new. Heck, I moved my own residences countless times and didn't replace all my furnishing each time I moved to a new house (which was 5 times - there were several more times I lived in leased residences) - objective save money.


dennistay53 2 years, 6 months ago

This is good but not good enough. By tabling this they are saying, voters we won't lie to you now, but we may in late March AFTER the ESPLOST is voted on. This needs to be brought back up and voted down BEFORE the ESPLOST is voted on. At least we know they read comments here and Emails and letters that are sent to them.


LoFlyer 2 years, 6 months ago

About the only space I have seen crowded in the new court house(CH) was the jury area. (many thanks to the kindness of the deputies and clerks) I suspect the proposed expansion is more about increasing administrative office spaces than judicial capacity. That said and I could be dead wrong on the issue, I am more than slightly alarmed at the county attorney, Mr. Craig's influence in county affairs. I find it disturbing that Mr. Craig blithely comes up with a legal solution to the over-budget CH expansion project. Newton county government has appointed Mr. Craig to oversee the Bear Creek reservoir project. No information as to the Bear Creek project is posted on the Newton County web-site, Newton County public works administrators admit they have no knowledge of the project. I suggest Newton County is entrusting valuable projects to Mr. Craig who is not a certified civil engineer. Mr. Craig is only a part-time employee and effectively the lead manager of the Bear Creek reservoir project slated at 70 million dollars when completed. I also suggest that Newton county hire a real, certified engineer to oversee the Bear Creek reservoir project. A happy and prosperous new-year to all!


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