2015 Rewind: July

Published 9:10 am Monday, January 4, 2016

From RCNH Archives

WINTON –In early July, Hertford County officials rolled out the red carpet to visiting dignitaries and local citizens during the dedication of the new Courthouse and Government Center located just west of Winton on US 158.

The hour-long ceremony included a formal ribbon cutting on the front steps of the courthouse, followed by a program inside one of the facility’s two courtrooms that featured remarks from local and state officials.

“Today is our day; we will be a model for others to follow and we have every right to be grateful,” stated Bill Mitchell, then Chairman of the Hertford County Commissioners.

Veteran Hertford County Commissioner Johnnie Ray Farmer, who has been on the Board for 15 years, recalled the long road it took to replace the old courthouse.

“It was back in 2000, when I first became a Commissioner, when our now retired Register of Deeds, Kathleen Wright, asked me to come to her office,” Farmer recalled. “It was raining that day and she showed me the buckets on the floor that were filling up with water because the roof was leaking. She took me next door to Shirley Johnson’s office (Clerk of Court) and showed me the same thing. They both told me this happens every time it rains. They said the roof had been fixed, but it still leaks.

“This was still back in 2000; that’s how long we’ve been fighting a leaking roof, with multiple fixes, at the old courthouse and there was a plan back then to build a new one,” Farmer said. “All we we’re doing with the old courthouse was repeatedly patching the roof, and it still leaked.”

Another veteran Commissioner, Curtis Freeman, provided a chronology of how the county arrived at the dedication ceremony, starting in January of 2007 with a structural assessment of the old courthouse; to June 2008 where a courthouse needs assessment was performed; to the formation of a courthouse stakeholders committee in Sept. 2008; to March 2010 where the county voters approved adding a local quarter-cent sales tax, the proceeds of which were earmarked for the new courthouse.

“That vote from our citizens gave us the added revenue we needed to get this project off the ground and that added tax now helps us offset our annual debt payments associated with these two new buildings,” Freeman stated.

By the end of 2010, an architectural plan began to come together on the new courthouse; and in June 2012 after a long debate of where to build the new facility, the county accepted a land gift (25 acres) from Rivers Edge LLC and purchased an additional 10 acres, all located off US 158 just west of Winton. The construction bid was awarded to A.R. Chesson & Son in March, 2013.

The Honorable Robert H. “Bob” Edmunds, Senior Associate Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, attended the dedication.

“We all know that justice exists in our hearts and in our laws, and not in our buildings, but buildings are what allow justice to thrive. With these improved facilities, citizens of Hertford County will enjoy easier access to the courts, to the clerk’s office, the register of deeds office and access to records. This courthouse stands as a monument to good governance and a commitment to equal justice for all,” Justice Edmunds said..

The dedication ceremony also included remarks from the local contingent representing Hertford County in the North Carolina General Assembly – 5th District House of Representatives member Howard Hunter III (a former Hertford County Commissioner) and 3rd District State Senator Erica-Smith Ingram.

Valerie Asbell, District Attorney for District 6, has seen her office in Ahoskie move to the new courthouse.

“There are a lot of advantages to having the District Attorney’s office inside the courthouse, to include being in the same building with the judges and the Clerk of Court. I love working with my peers and not having to drive 15 miles to do it,” she stated.

Chief District 6 Court Judge Brenda G. Branch cited the meaning of a true community, one she described as sharing values, attitudes, beliefs, responsibility, and goals, and has joint ownership and joint liability.

“A true community, like the one here in Hertford County, takes risks together; I’m certain that getting to this particular day wasn’t easy, but yet we’re here,” Judge Branch said. “We appreciate all you’ve gone through to provide us and your citizens with this wonderful facility.”

“I thank the Hertford County Commissioners for having the wisdom, the foresight, and the courage to build this facility. This building works well…it functions for the purpose of which it was developed. For this day to have significance, it’s not about the dedication of a building, but the dedication of the people who work in the building,” noted Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Cy Grant.