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Decision on judicial center expansion tabled
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The Newton County Board of Commissioners put the brakes on making a decision to proceed with plans for expanding the Newton County Judicial Center at their Dec. 18 board meeting.

The board unanimously voted to table a resolution that would authorize the expansion of the Newton County Judicial Center and financing for the proposed project.

County attorney Tommy Craig gave the board copies of different scenarios of financing options for the project and County manager John Middleton discussed those options with the board.

Some of the budget scenarios included eliminating the contingency fund for the project and even eliminating some of the fixtures and features to lower the overall cost.

At the Dec. 4 BOC meeting, Rowland Davidson of Lyman Davidson and Dooley, Inc - the architect for the expansion - presented the board with construction plans for the project as well as its $9,898,268 budget, which exceeded the SPLOST funding for the project, which was allocated for $7 million.

Craig reminded the board at that meeting that the BOC agreed not to issue revenue bonds for SPLOST projects. He suggested that the county use a certificate of participation, which he said is similar to a mortgage, for the funding needed for the project.

Craig said at that meeting that $7 million would be borrowed from the bank or the Association County Commissioner's of Georgia and finance the construction over a period of years.

On Tuesday night, the board of commissioners agreed that it did not want to bond out the proposed project and that moving forward with the expansion and financing for the project wasn't something the county needed to do at the present time.

Commissioner Mort Ewing said he was aware of the need for the expansion, but the nearly $9.9 million for the project was not in the parameters of the $7 million construction budget.

"I would first like to thank Mr. Middleton and Mr. Craig for bringing this information to us and I would also like to thank the judges for coming before this board and advising us as to the current needs in the judicial center. I think we are all aware that in a very short period of time, relatively speaking, we went from 60,000 people to 100,000 people," Ewing said. "The need for the space is there."

"However, we are still in a financial crisis and the budget crisis," Ewing said. "From my perspective, we were very fortunate to get the citizens to approve the 2011 SPLOST so that we could transfer a lot of debt obligation from the general fund to the SPLOST. And in that process, the 2011 board, which is this board, promised the people of the county that if they approved the SPLOST, we would not bond any projects, we would not borrow any money and we would not pay any penalties."

"While I'm aware of the need I would like to make a motion to table this for 90 days and ask the new chairman coming in January and the new board, Mr. Craig, Mr. Middleton and other staff as needed to go back to the drawing board and ask the architects to go back to the drawing board and come back with a proposal that falls within the money that has been allocated within that $7 million."

Commissioner Tim Fleming echoed the comments of Ewing saying that the expansion was a good project that was needed, but now wasn't a good time to move forward with it.

"To me it just seems that right now is not the time - especially for this board; not in the last meeting with three of us going out of office," Fleming said. "I don't think it's fair to the next board to impose this on them."

"We made a commitment as a board to the citizens of this county that we would not bond any projects and that we would not borrow any money," Fleming said. "It's going to put us in the hole and it's going to create fund expenditures in this county that we do not have at this time. Revenues are continuing to go down and the next board is going to be faced with some hard decisions with this next budget."

The board unanimously approved Ewing's motion to table making a decision on the expansion and it's financing for 90 days.