City plans to borrow money for courthouse

Published 6:32 pm Friday, April 26, 2019


City Manager Amanda Jarratt confirmed on Monday that the City of Franklin plans to borrow money to pay for its share of the cost to build a new Southampton County Courthouse.

Southampton County Administrator Mike Johnson said that based on the July 1, 2018, population estimates from the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia, Franklin’s share would be 31.76 percent of the cost to build whatever portions of the building are shared between the city and county. In the event that Franklin chooses to move its general district court and juvenile and domestic relations court from their current location adjoining the city’s police station to the new facility in Courtland, the city would be responsible for funding 31.76 percent of the cost of the entire building. However, if the city’s lower courts remain where they are, that cost drops to 22.23 percent based on the city sharing about 70 percent of the new facility, with the remaining 30 percent dedicated solely to Southampton County.

Johnson added that the county’s most recent cost estimates for the project — all of which are at least a year old — ranged from $23 million to $28 million. Assuming these estimates are still accurate, this would make the city’s portion between $5.1 million and $8.89 million.

“The City of Franklin is working with Davenport, our long-standing financial advisers, to develop a strategy for financing of the City of Franklin’s share of the Southampton County Courthouse,” Jarratt said. “Based on our understanding of the timing of the project, the effects on the City budget will not come into play until the FY 20-21 fiscal year. We are working with Mr. Johnson to set up a time for him to provide an up-to-date presentation on the timing of the project and updated cost estimates. The Franklin City Council has not had a formal briefing since July of 2018.”

Jarratt added that there is currently no money allocated in the city’s proposed fiscal year 2019-2020 budget for the project. However, the city has spent approximately $59,000 to-date for its share of costs related to the 2017 referendum on the project — which resulted in city and county voters overwhelmingly rejecting plans to build a new courthouse on a vacant site on Camp Parkway near Franklin — plus informational brochures, postage and preliminary estimates from architects and engineers.

“Once the referendum failed, the city’s part was over,” said Mayor Frank Rabil. “Now it is obligated to fund whatever they [the Southampton County Board of Supervisors] come up with.”

However, Councilman Bobby Cutchins requested that the city look into what legal obligation it has to fund the courthouse replacement.

“At the time, nobody knew the crisis this city was in,” Cutchins said, referring to the numerous funding cuts and personnel reductions Jarratt has proposed for the city’s 2019-2020 budget.

When asked if Southampton County’s plan for the courthouse was indeed going to be a replacement rather than a renovation, Johnson said that each of the three options “short-listed” by the Board of Supervisors last summer, prior to the Board’s public hearing on the matter, involved constructing a new building on a contiguous ( meaning one that adjoins county-owned property) or potentially contiguous site rather than renovating the existing circa 1834 courthouse and its 1960s addition. However, he added that no plan was “definite.”

“Nothing is ‘definite’ until a concept is authorized, design is complete, the project is competitively bid and a construction contract is awarded,” Johnson said.

The reason the county and city have been discussing the renovation or replacement of the county courthouse for the past few years is because the current facility has been deemed to not meet health and safety standards or space needs as defined by state statutes. In November 2015, circuit court judges expressed concerns regarding the facility and a subsequent architectural study found the following deficiencies: screening area is grossly undersized, no CCTV with cameras, no intrusion detection system for first-floor windows or doors, no interior or exterior access control (a credit card-like key system that logs time in and time out), no public address system, no emergency generator, no secure parking for judges and staff, no secure interior circulation system for judges or staff, no fire protection system, egress stairs and corridors do not meet modern building and safety codes, HVAC system components are between 20 and 57 years old, heavy concentrations of mold in several parts of the building, electrical system is in the basement — which is prone to flooding, and the building itself is located in a flood plain.

The study also found that based on current case loads, space needs are expected to double over the next 20 years, necessitating a facility of at least 44,000 square feet, not to include the basement. The current facility measures 23,000 square feet, not counting the basement.