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Hales recommends way to pay for courthouse expansion, refurbishing plan

Pearl River County supervisor Anthony Hales, Sr., on Monday recommended to fellow supervisors shifting and redirecting current millage already on the books that, he said, would allow Pearl River County to expand and refurbish its old courthouse with no additional taxes.

A plan put forward in 2011 called for remodeling the old courthouse here and adding two new wings at a cost of $12 million. A recent Pearl River County Grand Jury Report brought back up the issue and threw it back onto the supervisors’ desk.

However, Hales said it would require an extension of a small millage rate, about 1.7 mills, that would have otherwise expired.

His recommendation was similar to the way Lamar County used an extension of millage rates that would have otherwise expired to refurbish its old historic courthouse built in 1903.

Pearl River County’s courthouse was built in 1918 at a cost of $130,000, which was a lot of money back then.

Specifically, Hales called for redirecting 1.7 mills out of the road fund and one mill out of the bridge and culvert fund toward the courthouse project. He said the 1.7 mills is used to generate $500,000 to pay off indebtedness associated with the recently completed huge county road paving project, and added to the additional one mill from the bridge and culvert fund, will generate between $800,000 and $900,000 annually. The funds borrowed for the road paving project is almost paid off.

Pearl River County Administrator Adrain Lumpkin, Jr., told Hales it would take about $900,000 a year to pay off the $12 million in bonds that would have to be issued for the overall cost of the courthouse remodeling and extension plans. Hales said his proposed redirection of millage would raise between $800,000 and $900,000 a year.

Hales also told fellow supervisors that the board is in the same predicament with the courthouse as it was with roads when it passed the new millage to pave all county roads.

“We were faced then with doing it now or doing it later, and it would cost more later. We are in the same position with the courthouse as we were with the roads. This project must be done now or later, and it’s cheaper to do it now, and I have showed you a way to do it by not raising taxes, but by redirecting taxes,” said Hales.

“In addition, it might be cheaper than we think with low interest rates now. Interest rates will be going up,” he told fellow supervisors.

“And we saved money from paving all the roads at once; we didn’t need as many people and as much equipment, and we saved money there. On this courthouse, we face maintenance and cooling and heating costs in these old buildings. A new facility will save taxpayers higher maintenance costs and costs savings from more efficient heating and cooling equipment, and better insulated buildings,” said Hales.

Hales said the extension and transfer of the millage would raise between $800,000 and $900,000 a year to pay off an estimated $12 million bond issue needed for the courthouse project, an idea supervisors first floated in early 2011, but later voted it down 3-2, after a public hearing on the issue, where about half the residents who attended voiced objection to the plans.

Hales told the board on Monday that he “sensed” the board was not going to do anything real quickly on the matter. However, he said the costs of the project would grow larger the longer it is postponed, and then made his recommendation to fellow board members.

The recommendation was not put in the form of a motion so no vote was taken on the issue to see where each supervisor stands.

The issue of refurbishing and expanding the old courthouse was raised again, for the first time since the 2011 negative 3-2 vote was taken, when the latest Grand Jury to issue a report urged the construction and expansion be undertaken now while low interest rates prevail.

The Grand Jury Report also said that supervisors should better explain the project and its necessity to residents.

If supervisors re-directed the millage, it would not represent a tax increase from current rates, but would forestall a tax reduction that would have taken effect if the millage were allowed to expire.

Lamar County used the same procedure of extending millage but not raising rates, to pay for most of its $4.5 million courthouse renovation that should be complete in late Spring.  

Lumpkin told supervisors that it would take about three mills to generate the $900,000 yearly payment needed to retire $12 million in bonds that would be sold to accomplish the project. Hales asked Lumpkin for the projection.

Monday’s discussion was the second time supervisors have discussed the courthouse refurbishing issue since the Grand Jury brought up the issue again in its Grand Jury Report.

Supervisors also discussed the issue at their Feb. 20 meeting, but took no action on the matter, other than to order an inspection of the courthouse by county planner Ed Pinero, Jr., and heard board president J. Patrick Lee say he would search for funding to pay for the project.

On Monday, Pinero said he was still surveying the old courthouse and would have a report for the board at its next regularly scheduled meeting on Mach 20.