Courthouse referendum dominated in ‘17

Published 1:03 pm Saturday, December 30, 2017

When finally faced with the choice of whether or not to build a new courthouse or renovate the existing structure, the large majority Southampton County residents — 2,129 to be exact, according to the State Board of Elections — voted to keep what they already possess in Courtland.

For the previous two years, the county administration and residents had been discussing the need for either option, which was largely motivated by the Southampton Circuit Court judges’ issues about security, safety and even health of all who worked in the existing building. Underlying those concerns was the possibility that the county could be ordered to build an expensive new site to meet state code. But several people urged that Southampton be proactive, and so a committee was formed in May 2016 to study all options. A referendum was also proposed in order that residents could decide. Either way, the cost was not going to be inexpensive.

A year later, the panel suggested some potential sites either in or away from the town if a new court was voted on. The option recommended would have placed the building outside of the Courtland limits and onto Camp Parkway.

This possible removal of the “heart” of town was among the strong points made by people who objected to such as move. The other objection was based on the estimated cost of $26.5M. Proponents essentially said the existing building is too old for such a facelift. Health concerns of mold and dampness have also been pointed out.

Several town meetings took place to educate voters about the referendum and its impact.

But just because the county said no to a new courthouse did not mean that nothing more had to be done. Just the opposite. During the meeting on Nov. 27, the Southampton County Board of Supervisors unanimously agreed during that Monday to contract Moseley Architects to confirm space needs for any courthouse renovations and conceptual design. This followed lengthy discussion by the supervisors after Tony Bell, one of the firm’s architects, made a presentation summarizing work done so far and the options for the next steps.


In theory, golf is supposed to a game that enables the player to forget the everyday worries of the world, and enjoy some exercise in attractive park-like settings. A chance to unwind, if you will.

But when it came to the suggestion of using $30,000 to support a faltering country club, residents were anything but relaxed.

In late summer, the board considered contributing money that had already been set aside in the budget under the Parks, and Recreation and Cultural category. Specifically, the money would go to help the Cypress Cove Country Club, which many view as an asset to the county and surroundings. In return, non-members would be permitted to play golf at $25 a round; no other amenities would be available. Franklin City Council voted to follow Southampton’s lead and had $30,000 of its own to share.

Opponents chided the suggestion, frequently calling it a subsidy, and that the funds could be put to better use for more people. The criticisms — and support — were heard at every meeting and even in letters and columns to this newspaper.

At the October meeting, the majority of Southampton County supervisors voted 4-2 for granting $30,000 to shore up the Cypress Cove Country Club. In exchange, non-members would be allowed to play golf at a reduced rate. The votes in favor were from Vice Chairman Ronnie West, Barry Porter, Carl Faison and Randolph Cook. Those against were Dr. Alan Edwards and Bruce Phillips.

Porter urged people to take advantage of the golfing opportunity as a way to support what he and other supervisors consider an asset to the region.


Waking children up in time for school is rarely an easy matter, and getting them to classes can seem like a Herculean labor. Two people who can attest to the challenge have been the county school system’s Ricky Blunt, director of auxiliary services, which includes transportation, and transportation coordinator Ruth Burch. They know that finding qualified and dependable bus drivers has become increasingly difficult.

After considerable research and study, they presented to the Southampton County School Board and residents a new bus system called “two-tier.”

For example, drivers would first pick up students for the secondary levels, drop them off at the middle or high schools, and then turn around to fetch the little ones. In afternoon, the schedule could be reversed. Not only could this help in seeking new drivers, but would also save money in bus maintenance.

Three public hearings were scheduled in the spring that gave parents and drivers opportunities to ask questions, such as the pickup and drop-off times or what do in case of inclement weather or bus breakdowns.

Following further discussion and a work session, the school board unanimously agreed during its August meeting to implement the two-tier system.