Vote ‘No’ on referendum

Published 12:34 pm Friday, June 30, 2017

To the Editor:

Nov. 7 is an important day for the citizens of Southampton. Not only do we vote for the future of the Commonwealth, but also for the future of the County. I feel strongly that there needs to be clarity regarding the referendum Southampton citizens will be voting on.

Do we need a new courthouse constructed on a new site yet to be determined which is estimated to cost over $25 million?

Do we need to preserve the current courthouse, but demolish the adjacent wing and rebuild a totally a new structure next to it, also around $25 million?

Or would the better course be to modify the current structures with renovation to accommodate both public safety and service to the county without any total demolition?

Our supervisors previously approved the funds ($1.5 million) to improve the existing structures. It was stopped because of security concerns. Certainly the security concerns can be addressed for far less than a $25 to $30 million capital expenditure!

I attended the presentations by Mosley and Timmons; however, modification of current structures without total demolition was not adequately covered as if the decision was a foregone conclusion.

This is how I believe it could be done:

  • Security of the public could be accomplished by using the space where the colonnade is now to build a room capable of screening individuals entering the front door of the courthouse. This would control the flow of the public in and out; it would separate the general public from contact with the current staff also.
  • Security of the judges’ entrance could be provided by using the space between the Circuit Court Clerk’s office and the District Court to enclose an area for judges to park and enter with an elevator for transit to the court rooms. This newly constructed parking with entrance to the courts would separate judges and the public and offenders.
  • Security of offenders from jail to courtroom already provides for separation from both the public and judicial; no further renovation is needed.
  • Upgrade security with new surveillance technology wherever needed along with a new controlled- environmental system.
  • Where to park? Construct a parking lot across the street just off the entrance to the County Administration building. There are many other public facilities in the Commonwealth with walking distances greater than this location.
  • If a third courtroom is needed, this space could be provided over the clerk’s office — build up — not out. The City of Franklin has noted that it needs to secure its court facility or enter into agreement with Southampton County to use additional court space. Once Southampton’s needs are met, it may be economically feasible for Franklin to cover the cost of the additional courtroom.
  • These modifications could be made to current structures without having to relocate current employees. This is a cost savings yet to be considered.

Southampton’s population has not grown in years and now is less than 19,000 residents.

A brand-new courthouse adding $25 to $30 million of debt to our already enormous debt of $50-plus million represents another increase in taxes. This action would not only restrict our public safety efforts, but also affect funding in other areas: education and general operating costs of the county. Our taxes have already been raised this year to manage the necessary operating budget. Additionally, it was made known at the meeting that future expenditures currently unforeseen could and would add to the debt service — again adding to our taxes. This is an impediment to business growth and would send a signal to business as to how Southampton County manages finances. How would you like to move into an area that can only grow as fast as the tax base is raised?

I would urge our elected officials to begin this process of renovation with all parties involved as soon as voters vote “No” in November. Each stakeholder would sign off on agreements to make sure needs are met.

Is it workable? Sure it is. Mosely Architects is a fine company and could give us a product that meets requirements using existing structures; but, that must be driven by our county leaders.

Nov. 7 will be the first step in determining the course of action for Southampton County.

Your vote determines the course that Southampton County takes.

A “no” vote on the referendum to build a brand new courthouse should urge our county leaders to consider options that are safe and more fiscally responsible.

William Hart Gillette