Ivor, Courtland weigh in on courthouse

Published 11:40 am Friday, September 22, 2017

The education of Southampton County voters about the courthouse continued earlier this week, with public workshops in Ivor and Courtland on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively. At issue is whether or not to authorize the supervisors to spend $26.5M to build a new courthouse in a different location.

Southampton County Administrator Mike Johnson has led the meetings to explain how the issue has arisen, what steps have been taken to date and what could happen depending on the voters’ decision one way or another.

Essentially, the existing courthouse on Main Street in Courtland doesn’t meet health and safety standards or even space needs as defined by state statutes.

Some of these issues include controlled entering and exiting  of the building; security cameras; several instances of mold throughout the courthouse; secure circulation for judges and staff.

A committee was formed to study the matter, including whether to renovate the courthouse or build a new one. This past summer, the panel recommended a site on Camp Parkway. But it’s the county voters who get to decide in a referendum on Election Day.

The wording on ballots will appear as follows: “Shall the courthouse be removed to 30100 Camp Pkwy., Courtland, and shall the Board of Supervisors be permitted to spend $26,500,000 therefore?” The only answers voters may give are yes or no.

A yes vote means that the board can proceed with hiring Moseley Architects to design a building. ‘No’ means that a renovation would be done on the existing building and that, said Johnson, means it “must meet court needs. Judges have complete control in deciding whether the project meets their needs.”

In Ivor, one woman asked why renovate if the judges could disapprove of the plans. Johnson said that the judges are “acutely aware” of the issue and “take no please in saying ‘These are the things we need.’” He added that by state statute, judges are held responsible for the safety of all who work or come into a courthouse.

Asked about the impact of the price tag, Johnson said that money is available for a down-payment. Beginning this January, a savings of nearly $500,000 could be realized when the county is no longer part of SPSA, which handles trash.

A man asked what would happen to the existing courthouse, and Johnson said there are no definite plans.

In Courtland, the issue of wetlands at the proposed site was brought up, and approximately $500,000 would be needed for mitigation, according to Moseley Architect Tony Bell. He said the agency would do it’s best to minimize the cost of the required action.

Johnson confirmed another person’s questions of whether Franklin knows it’s paying 30 percent. The city gets to use the courthouse because of state laws.

Another resident said his biggest concern is that eventually a new jail would be needed and the sheriff’s office would also want to move. All that could increase the debt to $100M.

“My children and grandchildren will be here to pay for it,” he said. “I hope we don’t drink the Kool-Aid.”

Another man said, “There seems to be real no concerted effort of saving money.”

The whole processed was described by yet another gentleman who said, “We’re going like a freight train.”

Joe Vick, an outspoken opponent of a new courthouse, said such a plan “would really hurt the town of Courtland.”

Capron will have a town council briefing on Monday, Oct. 2, at 7 p.m., in the Ruritan building, 23035 Main St. Branchville will a have a town council briefing on Monday, Oct. 16, at 7 p.m. in the town office, 15310 Broad St. The fourth workshop will be on Tuesday, Oct. 17, from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Regional Workforce Development Center at Paul D. Camp Community College, 100 N. College Drive.

The full schedule and other related details are available at the county’s website, www.southamptoncounty.org.