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Hertford County moves on courthouse

WINTON – Hertford County Commissioner Curtis A. Freeman spends his days working with young people.

If one of them was to describe his message Monday, they might say something like, “Don’t talk about it, be about it.”

Freeman told his fellow commissioners the time has come to stop talking about the Hertford County Courthouse and do something about it.

“This is nothing new,” Freeman said. “We have been discussing what to do with the courthouse for some time now n whether to remodel it or build a new one.

“We can come up with a reason every year not to do it, but finances are not going to improve,” he continued. “We need to go ahead and move forward.”

The commissioner then suggested the board begin work on plans for a courthouse as soon as the 2008-2009 fiscal year budget is completed.

“Once we finish the budget later this month, I think we should set up a meeting with the judges, district attorney, sheriff and everyone else who uses the courthouse,” he said. “After that, we should do a needs assessment and then begin looking at financing options.”

Freeman said the square footage for a new courthouse would probably be less than the law enforcement center and that could give commissioners an idea of how much the annual payments would be.

“We need to start putting this into motion,” he insisted. “We can say it may cause taxes to increase, but we won’t know until we assess it. One thing is for sure, the cost is not going to do anything but rise if we wait.”

Commission Chairman Howard J. Hunter III said he agreed completely with Freeman’s assessment.

“Something needs to be done,” he said.

Commissioner Johnnie R. Farmer said he also agreed and asked Freeman what the next step should be.

“I think we need to finish the budget first and then have a meeting with the people in the courthouse,” he said. “We need to hear from them and they need to hear our plight as far as financing.”

Hertford County Manager Loria D. Williams said the board could quickly move to meet with the stakeholders who would be involved in any courthouse construction and also pointed out that two architectural firms had looked at the current building and had significant structural concerns.

“The stakeholders will also be involved in any needs assessment,” she said. “They will be asked to plan for their needs over the next five or 10 years because obviously you don’t build based on current needs, but allow for growth.”

Freeman asked Williams if the architects had given any idea of cost and she said they walk through had not reached that level.

“We just have to jump into it and let the rubber meet the road,” Freeman said.

Farmer said he agreed with that assessment.

“We have plans sitting in the corner that have been there since I became a commissioner almost eight years ago,” Farmer said. “We need to get started and make the commitment to follow through.”

Farmer said if Freeman made a motion he would second it or suggested the chairman could simply direct the manager to proceed as the board had outlined.

Freeman said he would prefer to make a motion to hold a meeting with stakeholders and then follow up with a needs assessment. After he made the motion, Farmer seconded it and it passed unanimously.