No time like the present

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 28, 2007

WINTON – The time to move forward on a new courthouse for Hertford County may be imminent.

According to County Manager Loria Williams, the county is in as good a financial condition to make the move as it is likely to be in the near future.

Williams said there seemed to be a move afoot in Hertford County to turn the commissioners’ attention to the courthouse.

“There’s no question there’s a need,” she said. “As I have spoken with commissioners about long-range planning for facilities, it is obvious the physical plant is aging. As priorities go, the courthouse is first.”

Williams presented the board with budget and planning numbers that show the county is in good financial condition as far as debt.

“The county has very little debt load,” she said. “The commissioners have acted as a pay-as-you-go entity, especially as it relates to schools.”

The county manager said the only debt the county has for buildings is the new addition at Roanoke-Chowan Community College and the renovations at the EMS building.

While she stressed the county has done a good job of avoiding debt, Williams stressed that she couldn’t make guarantees that building a new courthouse wouldn’t impact local taxes.

“Despite where we are, it doesn’t mean that if we embark on a new capital project it won’t affect the tax rate,” she said.

Williams noted, however, that it was her job to make sure if there was an impact on taxes, it would be as minimal as possible. For that reason, she said recommendations can be made to the board to start preparing for the construction before any dollars are required.

“Every approach before has been this huge capital project,” Williams said. “What we need to do is plan ahead and set money aside to pay for programming and costs associated with building.”

Williams has been directed by the Hertford County Commissioners to begin a study concerning the courthouse and said she has met with architects to look at space and needs. The current building has a bad roof, but Williams had told board members in their regular meetings that it would not be prudent to replace the roof with the other problems already known about the facility.

She said last week that she is currently looking at projected space needs if a new building was constructed and then the project will move forward to be presented to the board.

The manager said if everything went right from now until it was built, the new courthouse would still not open until the 2010-2011 budget year.

Because of the timetable, she said it was important that if the board approves the building of a new courthouse, there be plans in place to start setting aside funds to pay for the structure and all other related costs such as furnishings.

She also said she would likely be suggesting the commissioners appoint a courthouse study committee to look at the needs and possibilities as it relates to the building.

“Sometimes it’s not what you can afford to do so much as what you can afford not to do,” she said. “The question is can we afford not to?

“If the board wants a path, we will set up a plan,” she said. “I won’t say to anyone that taxes wont’ be impacted.”