Several years ago in the middle of rapid growth, I along with other county commissioners began to hear rumblings about the current courthouse.
People on jury duty, the other constitutional officers who worked at the courthouse, and the judges and their staffs were becoming increasingly concerned about how well the building functioned.
There was a clear need for more room, better security and one stop shopping for the citizens. Those needs are still in existence and time has only made them more intense.
The board of commissioners began a study process to verify this need and to begin to quantify it. The question was then put to the voting citizens on the last SPLOST election and the people approved going ahead to borrow the money up front and build the new building funded with the future collection of sales tax dollars, which come mainly from outside the county by shoppers on 400.
People have been working hard to acquire the land near the new jail, drawing up designs, making detailed plans, figuring out who needs how much room, what the debt will look like, issuing the bonds, and all the other thousand and one things that have to be done to build a large public building.
The plans have been let and the bids are in.
The really great news is that the construction costs will be the lowest on a square foot basis when compared to all other courthouses built in Georgia in the last 10 years.
Costs of construction will be less than $150 per square foot. From a costs stand point, we lucked up and timed this perfectly .
The bad news is that we did not see the long and deep recession which has lowered our expected sales tax receipts. But we cut the budget for the courthouse by over $10 million and our conservative estimates for financing this whole endeavor now indicate that we should be able to do this completely with sales tax dollars. We should not have to use any property taxes to get it built, even in the face of a long and continuing recession.
As we start the construction and the building comes out of the ground, I am sure that I will hear: “Commissioner you have lost your mind. You are using taxpayers money that is needed for other things like the parks, library, the humane society, new equipment for fire, EMS and sheriff deputies, etc. etc. And why in the world is it so dang big.“
The first thing to remember when you want to say these things is to know that the law requires SPLOST money to be voted on by the people and that once voted that money can only be spent for the things that are specified, and only in the order in which they were ranked.
Even if we wanted to, we cannot use those funds for any other purpose than building this particular kind of building. For good or ill we are locked into this path.
The other point to remember is that it is as big as it is so that it will accommodate most of the county administrative offices, as well as the courts.
It is a little oversized to allow for expected growth.
The Board of Commissioners, along with the other constitutional officers of government, as well as the county manager and his staff, are acutely conscious that we are stewards of the peoples’ money. We want to build a solid, long lasting building, that functions well, that looks good, that is located in the best spot, that costs less than the average courthouse and will be a building that our grandchildren will be proud of. I think we are well on the way to getting that done.