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Finance committee ponders ways to fund courthouse renovations

Steps needed to begin projects leading ultimately to renovations at the historic courthouse in Halifax must begin no later than early February.

That was the message County Administrator Jim Halasz delivered loud and clear to Halifax County Board of Supervisors Finance Committee members Thursday morning.

Participating in the meeting were Chairman Doug Bowman, ED-1 Supervisor J. T. Davis and newly elected ED-6 Supervisor Larry Giordano, all of whom spent the morning discussing possible savings, revenue and costs for the upcoming FY2015 budget. 

Among hot topics of discussion were first steps that must be taken before courthouse renovations can begin including the Halifax County School Board approving STEM renovations that should begin in March. 

That idea requires students in the Industrial Arts building at the Mary Bethune office complex to move into the back of the STEM center after classrooms are constructed. 

Estimated costs are $833,750 for that project. 

From the finance standpoint, Halasz said there are two questions-- does the board want to proceed and how will they pay for the project. 

Halasz told finance committee members he believes the school board should come up with some of the money. Superintendent Dr. Merle Herndon has told him “she would look” for ways to help fund the move.

Another suggestion was for the requested work “to be phased in, especially when looking at the classrooms.” 

Originally it was suggested to have four 750-square-foot classrooms constructed, but Halasz suggested building two classrooms with a divider. 

Two could possibly be constructed this year and two more the next in an effort to find funding for the construction. 

“The end game here is that we have new, renovated sites that meet the new requirements,” said Supervisor Davis. “I think that if this is in the chain of events, then I think you have to look at what you need rather than what you want.” 

The board members continued discussion by identifying funds they “have available to pay down some of those costs.” 

Finance Director Stephanie Jackson told finance committee members $50,000 currently is budgeted for a fairgrounds engineering review that could be allocated to this project. Halasz said he is ready to bring that back up during the January meeting adding the board could delay it. 

 “We would have an immediate benefit by putting water and sewer in the fairgrounds,” Davis said. “In the scope of things, we have plenty of capital projects to work on.” 

The board also has the option of using the courthouse maintenance fund, which Jackson said is about $163,000 and could be used for anything specific to the courthouse. 

As parts of the courthouse renovation projects, the sheriff’s office must be relocated, and Jackson said originally there was $150,000 committed to that portion of the project. 

 “The sheriff has committed $90,000 to that relocation, and it was some monies he was able to draw from the state to help us out. Right now, we have $250,000 noted as sheriff’s office relocation,” added Jackson. 

Also approximately $50,000 stands in asset forfeiture accounts that can be used for office furniture and capital expenditures. 

Overall, the board is currently estimating about a half of million dollars in their budget for the courthouse renovation projects. 

As finance committee members continued to discuss money matters, Halasz reminded that the school system will lose approximately $800,000 in funding that must be considered as the board makes budget considerations.

 “I think we should stay close to them, and if possible maybe we will be able to bump up our allocations to school,” said Chairman Bowman, adding, “but it is too early to tell.”   

The finance chairman also offered preliminary numbers of revenue sources within the county with the three major sources considered being real estate, personal property and machinery and tools taxes. 

For every one-cent hike in the real estate tax rate, some $362,634 will be generated. A penny increase in personal property tax would generate $21,960, and a one-cent boost to the machinery and tools tax could generate $10,975. 

Two years ago the board implemented the solid waste disposal fee, which is currently at $48 per residential house.

Bowman suggested that rate be left alone. 

Halasz suggested the board look at raising real estate tax rate. 

 “If we were to increase by two cents, we could receive approximately $360,000. If we were to increase the rate this year, we would receive payment in June,” said Halasz. 

Overall, Jackson said the larger tax and fee rates already are at the maximum as allowed by state code. Those taxes include business license taxes, motor vehicle taxes, meals tax, transient lodging tax and local sales tax. 

The finance chairman also listed non-mandated funds the board gives voluntarily to agencies and organizations that total roughly $186,747.

Halasz suggested possibly stopping some of the non-mandated funding to these organizations or activities. 

During the meeting, Halasz also updated committee members on upcoming emergency 911 expenses. 

Previously at the joint meeting between the board of supervisors and the Halifax County School Board, Halasz explained the emergency communications center is in need of center radio consoles, which will cost approximately $400,000. 

Even though the cost is budgeted at about $100,000 a year, Halasz said that could be “pushed off for four, five or six years.” 

The board also is waiting to hear back from the emergency communications center on recommendations to help with staffing issues including overtime and availability of personnel and staff.  

The next finance committee meeting has been set for Monday, Feb. 3, at 3:30 p.m.