Sparks fly as debate continues over Northampton Courthouse

Published 12:31 am Saturday, October 25, 2008

JACKSON—Tensions rose between county and court officials here during the third meeting of the Northampton County Courthouse Facility and Security meeting.

While the committee is moving full steam ahead with recommendations to the county commissioners and practical updates to the 1858 courthouse, the discussion became heated when the topic of funding was brought up.

Upon County Manager Wayne Jenkins giving his report regarding the New Courthouse Complex working group, he also briefed the committee on the Northampton County Board of Commissioners action to table the decision regarding the hiring of two additional deputies and contracting with TrueTech, Inc.

The cost of contracting with TrueTech, which would eradicate the bats in the courthouse attic, will cost the county approximately $19,998. The hiring of the additional sworn deputies to man the metal detector and provide security for the courthouse would set the county back $84,260 each year without the cost of equipment and patrol cars.

Jenkins presented a list of estimated calculations of the projects (including replacement of tiles, painting, installing new carpet etc.) the committee recommended. According to Jenkins that list totaled $205,000.

He continued by saying the board had just received its first quarter financial report on Monday from Finance Officer Dot Vick. In that report, Vick spoke about the possibility of cutting back on the county’s spending and stated many other counties are freezing funds. In light of the current national economic situation, sales taxes are down, therefore reimbursements back to local governments are down as well.

Jenkins explained to the committee that instead of voting down the two topics, the board made a motion to table the issues until receipt of the county audit which is scheduled for sometime in November. He also warned the committee about overwhelming the commissioners with requests

Northampton County Clerk of Court Venus M. Spruill reacted to Jenkins presentation, saying the bat problem was nothing new. She also stated the courts submitted enough money into the county’s general fund to pay for the contracting with TrueTech. Jenkins later explained that money went to pay for the utilities, landscaping and upkeep of the building.

Spruill said it was time to give the employees of the courthouse a safe and working environment.

“Since the last meeting, I have been diagnosed with allergens,” said Spruill pulling out boxes of allergy medication from her pocketbook. “I blame Northampton County.”

“I’m the messenger, don’t shoot the messenger,” Jenkins responded.

He continued by reminding Spruill that she is an elected official and is invited to address the county commissioners at their meetings.

“It would be irresponsible for me to direct the commissioners to spend $200,000 when there is no funding source to pull from,” said Jenkins.

“I’m not asking for $200,000, I’m asking for $20,000,” retorted Spruill.

Chief District Court Judge Alfred Kwasikpui, who also serves as chairperson of the committee, spoke after the Jenkins and Spruill’s exchange.

“I think we all recognize we have to be proactive instead of reactive,” he said in regards to the concerns at the courthouse.

Kwasikpui said the committee was not looking to overwhelm the commissioners with recommendations and that it was up to the commissioners to determine what course of action to take.

Jenkins said he recognizes the need for the work to be done, but it was up to the commissioners to determine a funding source.

“I felt attacked,” Jenkins told committee members about Spruill’s reaction.

Later in the meeting, Vick (who is new member of the committee) said the county’s fund balance is not allowed dip below eight percent. She said if the county was to draw the fund balance under the eight percent the state gets involved as well as the Local Government Commission.

Vick said the commissioners are on the fine line of increasing taxes.

“I like the idea of prioritizing,” she said. “In their (the commissioners) defense, it’s not like they have the money to dip into. …We have had a tight year and it’s going to get tighter.”

Jenkins noted the county buildings have needs that have not been assessed.

“If we remove the emotions and focus on the issues our citizens can benefit,” said Jenkins to the committee.

He said the dialogue between the two groups (county and court officials) was a positive.

“It’s a healthy growing process,” said Jenkins.

Before the contention, two of the three working groups gave reports to the committees about what they had accomplished since their last meeting.

Among the items accomplished:

* The Immediate and Urgent Needs (IUN) working group submitted detailed guidelines on when the painting of the inside of the courthouse should take place.

* IUN reported the rear doors/doorways of the second floor court room have been securely locked.

* The Security Committee reported they had receive a quote from Triple A Security in Roanoke Rapids and that the company had informed them they could tap into their current video surveillance system at the Sheriff’s Office to monitor the Tax Department and Register of Deeds offices. The work was estimated at $5,650.17.

* The movement of deposits are now coordinated.

* The Intensive Office is now up and running for probation meetings.