Council to Reconsider Courthouse Move, Makeover

FF Courthouse copyWINNSBORO (Jan. 15, 2016) – After two years of planning the renovation of the County Courthouse and the construction of a temporary Courthouse in the Hon Building to serve Fairfield County during that renovation, those plans may have to be scrapped due to cost, Interim County Administrator Milton Pope told Council members during their annual retreat Saturday. The news prompted Council members, at the end of the meeting, to place the Courthouse renovation at the top of their priority list for the coming year.

While renovation of the existing Courthouse will cost $1.9 million, and is within the project estimate outlined in the 2013 $24 million bond, that estimate did not include $3.5 million it will take to construct a temporary Courthouse in the Hon Building, Pope said.

“Nobody thought about that. The initial estimate was based on what someone kind of thought the project would cost. Now, we have the actual numbers,” Pope said. “And an estimate is not the same as actual cost. We’re going to have to restructure the projects’ estimates. It’s not that the money’s not there, but it’s not in a particular bucket.”

Pope said the problems with moving the Courthouse to the Hon Building and renovation of the current Courthouse are multiple.

“(The Courthouse in the Hon Building) is temporary and we aren’t going to be able to find a business (to move in to it) that needs a court room. We would be walking away from almost $4 million. Then the big question (with the current Courthouse) is it’s a challenging space based on how it was built for today’s needs. To make it ADA compliant, have jail cells in the back, a lot of people say they wouldn’t want to move back,” Pope said. “But the County Courthouse has to be located in a municipality in the County Seat. So we would have to annex the Hon Building property if we stayed in it.”

“What would be the estimate to build a new Courthouse?” Chairwoman Carolyn Robinson (District 2) asked.

“New construction is sometimes more cost effective than renovation,” Pope said. “If we were to decide to do that, it would be a new issue altogether. But we could use the engineering plans and architectural drawings we already have on any location.”

“There are some major decisions we need to make,” Pope told Council.

He said his recommendation would be to finalize the prices on some of the other bond projects before tackling the Courthouse renovation. Moving bond money from one project to another to cover costs would have to be affirmed with a resolution by Council, Pope said.

When asked about a timeline for completing the various bond projects, Pope said that would be worked out in this year’s budget process.

Other goals

After listing the Courthouse renovation as their most critical goal for the coming year, Council added the following as their next top priorities: 1) conduct a county department performance audit, 2) improve the quality of life for the county’s citizens, particularly seniors, and 3) provide water and sewer infrastructure for western Fairfield County.

Lesser priorities included:

–complete the fire/EMS/recreation projects

–adopt a new and revised animal control ordinance

–lower the tax burden on the maximum number of citizens

–install signage at the County lines and other locations

–implement the classification and compensation study

Pope also announced that the County was recently close to making an offer to a candidate for Director of Economic Development, but that it had not worked out. He said he had re-advertised for the position and, in the meantime, was handling the duties for that position with the help of the Central SC Economic Development Alliance.

Pope told Council that the County’s fiscal health is good and that the County’s total fund balances have grown from $8,457,166 in 2013 to $15,147,442 in 2015.