‘Hold harmless’ funds tapped

Published 9:34 pm Wednesday, August 15, 2012

GATESVILLE – A special fund set up in the county’s current year operating budget will be tapped to cover the costs of several projects.

At their Aug. 1 meeting, the Gates County Board of Commissioners agreed to a contract with ClearScapes Architects of Raleigh to begin phase one of the renovations to the county’s historic Federal style courthouse. They also learned and approved a plan developed by County Manager Toby Chappell of how to pay for phase one – as well as covering an unexpected shortfall in the county’s Register of Deeds budget and giving the local public schools additional funds for capital improvements – without compromising the recently approved General Fund budget for the new fiscal year.

However, prior to approving the phase one document, the board – which agreed last month to move forward with a plan to save the old courthouse – wanted to make sure of its wording.

“Ninety percent of the (phase one) contract does not apply to this stage of the renovation,” said Chappell. “What was presented was a standard contract that’s typically used for construction and we’re not at that phase of this project as of yet.”

Chappell said he spoke with ClearScapes officials and they agreed to remove the construction wording and be governed by a special letter of conditions attached to the contract.

“I took a look at the document and I agree with the county manager that many of the requirements of this standard document are for construction,” said Commission Vice Chairman Henry Jordan. “However I do have concerns that when the architects come in to perform the duties outlined in phase one, they’ll be climbing all through the old courthouse to do the assessment. There are some general liabilities that we ought to include in the letter.”

Jordanpointed out Article 2.5 of the contract should remain in place. That part of the contract states that the architect “shall maintain insurance (General Liability, Automotive Liability, Workers’ Compensation and Professional Liability) for the duration of this agreement.”

“That covers the fact that while they are on the county’s property that they will maintain insurance,”Jordanstressed.

Jordanmotioned for the county manager to enter into the phase one contract with ClearScapes with the noted additions discussed. Commissioner Johnny Hora offered a second and the motion was approved without objection.

To cover the cost of phase one (listed in the contract at $33,800), Chappell had devised a plan that moves money from a “hold harmless” fund for Gates County Public Schools set up in the county’s FY 2012-13 budget

In that budget, an additional $150,000 was earmarked for the school system (an amount in excess of “level year” funding). Those added funds were a “hold harmless” deal, thus giving the local schools additional money in the event that the state, as originally projected, would cut public school funding statewide.

“The state has now come back and have brought to the table $138,000 of that added $150,000 that we had held for our local schools,” Chappell stated. “So, we’re only paying $12,000 out of that $150,000. Now there’s $138,000 freed up in our budget.”

Chappell said of that $138,000, Gates County Schools Superintendent Dr. Barry Williams has met with him and has requested an additional $75,000 to deal with some capital projects for the school system this year.

“This is relevant to ClearScapes in that the other part of the additional money would pay for the first phase of the old courthouse renovation, will make a correction ($5,000) in the Register of Deeds budget that has come up and needs to be addressed and the balance will sit where it is until we get to phase two (of the courthouse renovation) which I think we’ll get to in the Spring of 2013,” Chappell said.

Chappell added that since phase two will come in the current budget year, the balance of the aforementioned funds will help pay for that stage of the project.

“Not all of it, but a substantial portion of phase two,” he noted.

“We’re very fortunate that the state appropriated more money for the schools so that we would not have to use that $150,000,” saidJordan. “To give the schools an additional $75,000 is a good thing to help them out with their capital outlay projects. We know they have various needs and this is a good opportunity to show our support for them.”

Commission Chairman Graham Twine asked about the $100,000 that the county included in the current year budget for capital outlay for the schools.

“We have given them $100,000 for capital outlay in each of the budgets I’ve worked on since I’ve been here,” Chappell said. “These are issues that the school system needed to deal with and they haven’t dealt with due to financial decisions and now they can deal with them. I agree with the vice chairman, this is an excellent opportunity to work together in this new partnership we have with the school board.”

Commissioner Jack Owens said it was to his understanding that the $75,000 needed by the school system was for several different projects.

“That’s correct; I’ve seen the list of those projects and it’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 different projects,” Chappell noted.

Jordanmotioned to approve the budget amendment to address the school system’s capital improvement projects and make the correction in the Register of Deeds budget. Commissioner Kenneth Jernigan offered a second and the motion was approved by a 5-0 vote.

As for the renovations to the old courthouse, one completed in 1836 and is showing signs of age, the commissioners agreed last month to form a committee who will determine an end use for the restored facility as well as helping to identify funding sources and strategies for the renovation, and assisting ClearScapes Architects as needed with information, recommendations and suggestions during all phases of the restoration/preservation process.

As part of that discussion, but not approved at this early stage of the process, was the adoption of a financing plan for renovations (which is now estimated at between $3 million and $5 million) and allow the county’s registered voters to voice their opinion on whether or not to invest taxpayer dollars by way of a referendum at the earliest date possible allowed by NC General Statutes.

Chappell said that additional research is needed to ensure the county is following the direction of the State Statutes in regards to holding a voter referendum. He said based on information provided by the North Carolina Local Government Commission, there are only three ways to allow for a referendum – a dedicated (tax) levy format, a statutory reason, or a local bill introduced to the General Assembly.

“There are other questions that need to be answered first before we move to put this to a referendum,” Chappell said last month. “The biggest question is what is the exact dollar amount of the courthouse restoration project. We’re not at a point as of yet where we can comfortably say that a referendum will be held on a certain date.”

It was at their Oct. 5, 2011 meeting where the commissioners formally launched an effort to restore the local landmark, one that is showing its age with cracks to the foundation as well as work needed inside. It is one of a small number of ante-bellum courthouses remaining in the state and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

ClearScapes was selected by the commissioners at their  Nov. 21, 2011 meeting to handle the old courthouse project.  The county solicited RFQ’s (Request for Qualifications) from firms interested in providing the engineering details that will hopefully lead to renovations. A total of 19 companies responded and were interviewed by the commissioners on Oct. 26.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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