The Transylvania Times -

County Closer To Making Courthouse Decision

 

October 12, 2017



After years of study and deliberation, commissioners could make a decision on the Transylvania County Courthouse during their first scheduled meeting in November.

During Tuesday’s commissioner meeting, Dan Mace, with Moseley Architects, gave a review and update of the work and options on a project 12 years and counting in the making.

The three basic options facing commissioners are do nothing, build a new courthouse beside the Public Safety Facility on Morris Road, or renovate and add to the current courthouse.

Commission Chairman Larry Chapman suggested doing nothing was not really an option and that commissioners should make a decision in November.

If the county does go ahead and build a new courthouse, it would be a roughly three-year undertaking before completion, including a year of design work and awarding of a construction bid, 18 to 20 months for construction, and up to three months to move in and get set up.

Mace went over the issues with the current courthouse as suggested by court officials, law enforcement, the public and others:

•Inadequate parking — no separation of judge, public and staff parking;

•No ability to securely transport and move prisoners into the facility;

•Aging infrastructure;

•Not enough courtrooms for increased caseloads;

•Inadequate public screening and queuing spaces;

•Mixed movement paths for judges, public and prisoners —safety and liability concerns;

•Varied security and accessibility issues;

•Inadequate prisoner holding areas;

•No jury pool space;

•Inadequate court jury deliberation space;

•Inadequate courtroom size other than superior courtroom; and

•Inadequate conference and attorney breakout space.

Mace said the current courthouse was designed “for a different time” and not for the “dangers” faced today.

Most of the public feedback has suggested something needs to be done, but there are differing opinions on whether to improve the current site or move to the Morris Road location.

Those supporting improving the current courthouse have talked about its historic importance.

At a previous meeting, Brevard Mayor Jimmy Harris said the local economy was built around the “iconic” courthouse, which is part of the community’s “branding,” which attracts visitors here.

“Relocating the courthouse will not be convenient for the majority of residents but will be convenient for inmates,” he said.

Moving, he suggested, would negatively impact attorneys, businesses, real estate offices and, in turn, sales tax revenues.

Concerns about the old courthouse sitting vacant if a new site is built have also been voiced.

Many court officials and law enforcement, however, have backed building a new courthouse primarily because of safety concerns.

Christy Brown, the current clerk of court, said in a previous meeting that she sees “firsthand” the difficulties of the day-to-day operations. For one, the smaller of the two current courtrooms holds about 40 people. Brown said that some days there will be 200 people on the calendar for that courtroom and people will be spilling out into the corridor.

Brown said inadequate parking means sometimes court staff have to go and meet someone at their vehicle because they are unable, because of age or illness, to walk to the courthouse. She said the close proximity of judges, witnesses, defendants and jurors in the courtroom’s corridors opens the county to safety and liability, plus the potential for mistrials.

On Tuesday, Mace provided a timeline of the different options that have been discussed over the years and cost estimates to build a new courthouse.

Mace estimated to build a new two-story 61,000-square-foot courthouse building today — including three district courtrooms and one superior courtroom — beside the Public Safety Facility would cost roughly $26 million. To include a “shelled” third level for future growth would bump the price up to roughly $31 million. The projected figures for a two-story or third-story building include the costs of furnishings and equipment.

Mace said his numbers are “conservative” and he would expect them to be lower if and when the work is completed.

Including a third level could save the county money in the long run, Mace suggested.

The cost to build a 34,000-square-foot new addition at the current courthouse site, to do 1,600-square-feet of renovation work and to build a parking deck, with a minimum of 200 spaces, is still being calculated. A number upwards of $18 million to $19 million has been mentioned. This does not include the land cost for the parking deck.

Financing Options

County Finance Director Gay Poor went over the financing options, which also had been presented at a previous meeting:

•Installment financing agreement: The maximum term for this loan type is usually 10 to 15 years. The pros: simplest option, lower interest rates, lower fees and issuance costs, fewer documents required and shortest timeline. The cons: limited term (10-15 years) and limited amount that may be borrowed.

A $26 million loan over 10 years would mean annual payments of about $3 million, or a 5.3-cent property tax increase to pay for it. The same loan over 15 years would mean annual payments of $2.2 million, or a 3.9-cent increase.

•Certificates of participation (COPS): The maximum term for this loan type is usually 20 years. The pros: longer term (up to 20 years), large financed amount, shorter term than USDA loans and bonds, and easier authorization process than bonds. The cons: most complex option because of documentation and parties that need to be involved, higher fees and issuance costs, and higher interest rates than bonds.

•USDA loans: The maximum term for loans is 40 years. Pros: longest term (up to 40 years), large financed amount, lower fees and issuance costs than COPS and bonds, no prepayment penalty. Cons: long timeline for approval, higher interest rates than bonds, potential difficulty refinancing and federal restrictions.

•General obligation bonds: Unlike the other options, it would require voter approval. The maximum term of a bond is 20 years. Pros: longer term (up to 20 years), large financed amount, lower interest rates than USDA loan and COPS, not as complex as issuing COPS. Cons: long timeline for approval and higher fees involved in issuing.

More from the meeting will appear in Monday’s paper.

 
 

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