Northampton Courthouse annex project receives public comments

Published 6:51 pm Tuesday, October 24, 2023

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JACKSON – Three citizens chose to speak during a public hearing held during the Northampton County Board of Commissioners meeting held on Oct. 16.

The purpose of the hearing was to receive comments on the courthouse annex project, and was required by the USDA, which is providing a $5 million grant allocation for the construction.

“It is anticipated that no taxpayer funds will be required to construct this annex building,” stated Board Attorney Scott McKellar as he provided an overview of the project. “If the construction should cost over that amount [$5 million], I’m informed that existing and leftover state appropriations from the current courthouse construction will be used.”

Northampton County received a $14 million grant allocation from state budget funds in 2021 to construct a new courthouse on Jefferson Street (Highway 158) in Jackson, just east of the State Employees Credit Union.

The annex building will be on the same 10-acre site as the new courthouse, and is expected to house the county’s administrative offices (County Manager and staff), finance department, tax department, Register of Deeds office, and more.

The citizens speaking during the public hearing took the opportunity to ask multiple questions about the project.

Garry Elliott asked what the other buildings will be used for once those departments move to the annex.

Board Chair Charles Tyner explained that those vacated offices will be used as additional space for the sheriff’s office, court system, the health department, and any other county department that needs more space to operate.

Elliott also asked to confirm that the $5 million was grant money and not a loan. Tyner responded that it is 100 percent grant money from the federal government.

“I can’t believe it either, but it is,” he said.

Elliott’s last question was about what would happen to that money if the annex isn’t constructed for some reason. Tyner again replied that the funds would be returned to the federal government.

Gwendolyn Futrell asked if the annex will include a meeting space for the citizens to use, and Tyner said yes.

Vickie Evans wanted to know why the new courthouse wasn’t designed to include everything under one roof.

Tyner pointed out that many courthouses have auxiliary buildings on the same site to house other county offices, and it’ll make it easier for citizens to get everything done in one location, even if the buildings are separate.

Commissioner Geneva Faulkner also noted that the plan to build a new courthouse has been in the works for several years – particularly to make a number of security upgrades that could not be done in the current historic courthouse – and the state funding allocation came before they received the $5 million federal allocation.

“It was just getting to the point we couldn’t keep delaying, waiting to build one unified building,” she said.

With all questions answered and no further comments offered, Tyner closed the hearing.

Earlier this year, in April, the commissioners approved a construction contract for the annex building with AR Chesson Construction. That same company is also working on the new courthouse, which is expected to be completed in December this year or January 2024.