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Halifax County supes seek to allay cost fears with Courthouse / December 19, 2016
Halifax County supervisors sought Thursday to allay concerns about the cost burdens of the Courthouse Project by stressing that the impact on county finances is highly manageable.

Addressing the subject at their annual retreat at the SVHEC, board members and county staff emphasized that courthouse overhaul is budgeted for much less than the $20 million sum bandied about in the local media.

Officials made an open request to the press to correct what they called “misinformation” about the costs of the Courthouse renovations.

They stressed that the original $13,492,409 figure for expansion and renovations to the historic but dilapidated building remains unchanged. The project cost rises with the addition of a five percent contingency of $674,620 and the $500,000 expense to establish an interim court site, designated to go into the industrial arts building at the Bethune Office Complex. (The building has been renamed the Mary Bethune Annex.)

The project budget also includes $767,325 for furniture and other fixtures, along with $1,385,065 for architectural and engineering costs. All told, the work associated with the courthouse overhaul is projected to cost $16,819,419.

The $20 million figure is three million dollars more than the amount budgeted for courthouse itself. The reason, say officials, is that the higher number includes the preliminary cost of renovating or replacing the Office of Commonwealth’s Attorney, which sits on the Courthouse Square but is separate from the circa 1838 courthouse building.

Officials estimate it will take $2.5 million to fix up the tattered, century-old prosecutor’s office, with a $540,715 contingency added. Those figures drive the entire amount of projected spending to around $20 million.

All of the cost estimates — for the Courthouse, the temporary court facilities at the Bethune office complex, the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s building — are just that, estimates. None of the construction work has yet gone to bid.

To pay for Courthouse renovations, the Board of Supervisors agreed in October to take out a $16.8 million loan with the Virginia Resources Authority, a low-rate lender to state municipalities.

County Administrator Jim Halasz told supervisors on Thursday that Halifax will be able to shoulder the debt load on that loan as result of the 2014 real estate tax increase, of 2 cents per $100, that supervisors enacted specifically for the Courthouse project.

Revenue from the higher tax is sufficient to pay the courthouse loan over a 20-year period, by fiscal 2038.

Halasz also reviewed the county’s budget reserve policy, which earmarks 20 percent of the general fund revenues to an unassigned fund balance. One-half of the unassigned funds is earmarked for debt reduction, and the other half goes to pay for capital improvement projects (CIP).

As of December, the debt service reserve fund stood at nearly $1.3 million, while the CIP fund had $708,122 accumulated.

Halasz said the county will allocate $386,522 to debt reduction and $386,522 to capital improvement projects during the fiscal year, which began in July and ends June 2017. (A $100,000 contribution to the county’s 12 county fire departments, made in the current fiscal year, was paid out of the CIP fund.

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Allay our fears of financial mismanagement? NOt a chance that Halasz can keep us from believe ing that when all is said and done that cost over runs will not push this towards to $25-30 million. The Board of Idiots and drunken sailor Hala$z can't even manage maintenance on county buildings. So we are expected to have faith that they will manage this under budget?? give us a break!

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