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Opinion

Halifax County must contest unnecessary costs for courthouse

SoVaNow.com / January 14, 2016
Dear Viewpoint:

We are all well aware of the fact that the Halifax County Courthouse is in dire need of repairs and little has been spent on its upkeep in the last 40 years. As a result we are now faced with a situation where we are being dragged into court to force our hand and demand action. This is a perfectly legitimate course of action under the Code of Virginia and the interested parties are perfectly reasonable in using this avenue to force the Board of Supervisors to take action in providing appropriate facilities to house the court.

It does appear however, at least on the surface, that this is where the reasonableness has been left behind. There have been a number of issues raised regarding the security improvements that the current plan calls for and they range from the reasonable to the level of questionable. While it appears that at least the external blast walls have been removed after a lengthy debate we are still dealing with security requirements that are not necessarily aligned with the realities of Halifax County. If one consults the Handbooks for Court Facilities in Virginia and the Guidelines for Court facilities both references state that the security requirements should be developed to mitigate risks as they are identified by a security and vulnerability assessment that would typically be developed with the assistance of the Sheriff’s Office. This does not appear to be the case with the plan for the Halifax Courthouse and according to the reports from the Board of Supervisors, the requirements are being driven by the lawyers, the architects and the engineers.

The Board of Supervisors has taken a position that they can avoid a trip to court by entering into a binding agreement based on a list of improvements. The fear of going to court has driven numerous compromises and we have seen the bill for the work go from $10 million to an estimated $17 million at this stage. This is an expenditure that the citizens of the county will have to pay for through increased taxes. It behooves us as public servants and stewards of the financial resources to ensure that we are getting what is needed and not what is wanted. Now is the time for financial restraint and careful investments in order to keep us moving towards the future. The court cannot order us to provide more than the minimum requirement. It is not about whether we would win the case, everyone knows we are obligated to provide the facilities and going to court to prove it will result in no surprises. However, using this impending legal action as a threat to force a negotiated settlement that provides for improvements that are out of line with reality and the financial capacity of the county is an abuse of the system.

Now is not the time for spending on luxuries and gold plated solutions. We would be better served by ensuring the appropriate agencies are involved to ensure that minimum standards are met in response to realistic security and vulnerability assessments. We need to ensure that the interests of the public come first and that the interests of the public servants are kept in line with these interests and goals.

I suggest that we have our day in court and that the plans are given the appropriate scrutiny required for sound management of public money. Doing otherwise is not in the interests of the public and is a waste of taxpayer money. I urge you to contact your member of the Board of Supervisors and register your opinion on the matter. Halifax County will have future financial needs much greater than this and we should be as fiscally responsible as possible.

Sincerely,

James Edmunds II





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