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In touch with local government

POSTED: June 10, 2009 4:00 a.m.

As most everyone knows, the Dawson County Government is in the process of designing and building a new courthouse and administration building.

  

This facility will be constructed where the parking lot of the current courthouse is located and a new parking lot will be built at the current Dollar General location including the property directly behind and to the side of the Dollar General.

  

The courts outgrew their current home many years ago and, therefore, this is a much-needed addition to Dawson County. The new facility will allow most county offices to consolidate into one building and move out of currently rented space, saving the taxpayers approximately $150,000 a year in rental costs.

  

The new facility will have four stories and just over 100,000 square feet in size. 

  

The front of the building will face Shoal Creek Road and will be brick and stone in keeping with the historic courthouse and the new Law Enforcement Center.

  

This building will be a one-stop shop for our citizens to handle most of their county business.

  

I have been asked two questions that concern some of our residents.  The first is:

 

“Why don’t we wait and build the courthouse later given the current state of our economy?”

  

I want to take a moment to try to address this question. 

  

On Nov. 6, 2007, the citizens of Dawson County voted for and passed a referendum approving the collection of a one-penny special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST V) by an 87.44 percent vote. Part of this vote was the question of whether or not to borrow approximately $40 million to build a courthouse and use the future collection of this SPLOST to pay back the loan.

  

This was also approved by the voters.

  

On Dec. 13, 2007, the Dawson County Board of Commissioners borrowed $38.25 million to start the project.

  

By law, these funds can only be used for the specific project approved by the voters.  We cannot use this money to offset other revenue sources such as taxes or to cover the cost of the general operations of the county. As we all are painfully aware the national, state and local economy has declined since.  As a result we have seen our anticipated SPLOST collections also decline.

  

In response to this decline, the decision was made several months ago to cut the construction budget back and to establish what is commonly known as a sinking investment fund to offset the debt service payments for the courthouse.

  

This should still allow the county to build and pay back the loan for the building by the end of SPLOST V without using any property tax dollars. 

  

The option of putting the project on hold until the economy improves was also explored.

  

The main problem with this option is that the interest we are paying on the loan is more than we can earn with the money invested in bank CD’s or from other state approved investments. This means that every day we wait the less money we will have available to do the project.

  

The other consideration is that there will probably not be a better time to bid out a construction project of this size.  We are anticipating getting much better pricing on this project than we would have a year ago or than we would a year from now. 

  

The construction experts tell us now is the time to build.

  

The second question that has been raised is: “Why is the county considering tearing down the existing courthouse?” 

  

This is a good question, and I would like to explain the thought process that is going into making this decision.

  

The current building was built in 1977-1978 and has served the county well for the past 30 plus years.  The original idea was to construct a courthouse and then renovate the existing building for the county’s administration and non-court related offices.

  

When the county hired Rosser, the architect firm designing the courthouse, they were given these instructions.  One of the first things Rosser did was to have their engineers take an in-depth look at the existing structure. 

  

Many of you will remember that when the courthouse was built it had a flat roof. 

  

Over the years, the county had continuous problems with the roof and a new roof was added in the mid-nineties.

  

According to the structural engineers the building was not originally designed for this type of roof and the steel is showing signs of stress. The engineers indicated that in order to properly renovate the building we would have to take it back down to a shell, with only the walls and the floor remaining, and then bring it to current code. 

  

The architects feel strongly that in today’s construction market it would be smarter to add the space to the new building.  This would allow for a cheaper cost long-term and a much more efficient operation.

  

One building would have a lower cost to maintain and it would be much easier and less costly for the Sheriff to secure one structure versus two.

  

The original construction budget has been revised to ensure that we can meet the debt service payments and to ensure that the new facility is 100 percent paid for at the end of the SPLOST collection. I am confident that this will be a courthouse and government center that not only we, but also our children and grandchildren will be proud of.

  

I encourage anyone that has additional questions or concerns about the project to call me.  This project will be the largest construction project Dawson County Government has ever undertaken.  We are working hard to make sure that it is a success for all of our citizens.  I look forward to hearing from and to working with each of you.

  

Dawson County Manager Kevin Tanner may be contacted at (706) 344-3501, Ext. 247 or e-mail ktanner@dawsoncounty.org.

 

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