Courthouse committee in favor of new building

Published 4:40 pm Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Southampton County Courthouse Planning Committee, appointed by the board of supervisors to determine whether the century-old building should be replaced or renovated, recently voted that the supervisors proceed in developing a request to the circuit court for an election on the question on the removal of the courthouse to a new location.

“[They] want to put the question to the people of Southampton County and the City of Franklin,” county administrator Mike Johnson said. “Of course, prior to actually submitting that request for the writ of election, it’s necessary to determine exactly where the courthouse might be removed to, and how much it might cost to require the property and construct the facilities.”

The board is comprised of Johnson; Franklin City Manager Randy Martin; judges from the circuit court, general district court and the juvenile and domestic relation court; clerk of courts Rick Francis; Sheriff Jack Stutts; Commonwealth’s Attorney Eric Cooke; supervisor Dr. Alan Edwards; Courtland Mayor Danny Williams; former clerk of courts Wayne Cosby; one member of the Franklin City Council; and one member of the local bar association.

The vote was 9-2 in favor, with the two committee members absent. Francis and Williams were those against the decision.

The committee also approved a second motion by an 11-0 vote to recommend that any new courthouse facilities be sufficiently sized to accommodate the circuit, general district and juvenile and domestic relations courts of both Franklin and Southampton County under one roof. The City currently maintains a separate general district and juvenile and domestic relations facility.

“The way the funding reimbursement works is based on the proportion of the population [in the building]. To keep the numbers relatively round, the county covers 70 percent of the cost, and the city is 30 percent,” Johnson said. “However, for the actual courthouse building costs — because we share roughly 71 percent of the building — Franklin’s actual share is about 21 or 22 percent.”

Combining the courts would level the County and City’s costs for operating and maintaining the building.

“We’re not going to be losing anything by doing this,” Edwards said. “The only thing that is a little frightening is the referendum, but we’re going to have to do that. We’re going have to keep everyone informed as to what’s at stake here. If we have to go back and renovate that building over there, it’s going to cost us a lot more and we’re going to have to renovate a piece of junk that’s still on the floodplain.”

The supervisors ultimately accepted the recommendation and referred the task of site evaluation and procurement to the planning commission.