Commissioners hear options on courthouse

Commissioners hear options on courthouse
September 08
07:45 2016



Forsyth County commissioners are examining options for a new or renovated Hall of Justice, which could cost more than $145 million.

The commissioners once again were given a presentation on the options for replacing the aging courthouse during a Sept. 1 briefing. A new building would cost more than $145 million, while renovating and expanding the existing one would cost nearly $112 million. This construction would be paid for with limited obligation bonds, which can be ratified by the commissioners themselves, unlike the county bond referendums residents will vote on in November. This is a type of bond often used for necessary projects that might not be attractive to voters in a referendum.

Based on projections presented to the county commissioners, the new building would add 3 cents onto the tax rate on $100 of property value in 2018, while renovations would add 2.1 cents.

This would be on top of a tax increase from three county bonds, if voters ratify them, which would cause a 3.6-cent tax increase in 2018 and an additional 3.8 cents in 2022. County Commissioner Gloria Whisenhunt was concerned this was too much of an increase.

“It’s going to impact some of our citizens adversely,” she said. “It’s really going to impact our senior citizen community that lives on Social Security that get no increase or, if they do, it’s very small.”

Whisenhunt, who normally supports education bonds, voted against the 2016 bond referendums because of her concern that the resulting debt and taxes will be too much.

The courthouse renovation would push the county’s cost of debt to 17.9 percent of the total budget by 2023, which is very close to its debt limit of 18 percent. The new courthouse would be above the limit, making the county’s debt cost 18.1 percent of the budget. Paul Fulton, the county’s chief financial officer, said when more money that goes to debt payment, it means less can go to services.

The current Hall of Justice, built in 1975, needs more space, better facilities and improved security. It’s currently 163,000 square feet and is projected to need 332,000 square feet and 19 courtrooms by 2035.

The new courthouse would be located on Second Street between Church and would have a tower that could be up to 13 floors high.

It would also include a parking deck and an adjoining walk-way with the neighboring Forsyth County Detention Center. The new courthouse would mean construction would not disrupt the functions of the current one. Design, construction and move-in would take four years.

The plan for a total renovation of the current building would eliminate the current parking lot for expansion, but would have parking underneath the building. Construction would be phased to minimize disruption of courthouse activities. This renovation process would take close to six years before it would be ready for operation.

Superior Court Judge Todd Burke was among the Forsyth County Bar members at the commissioner briefing. The bar has been advocating for a new courthouse. He said the renovation would take too long and be too disruptive for those who use and work at the courthouse.

“Although we’re sensitive to the fiscal responsibility that the commissioners have, we want them to be sensitive to the massive disruption, which would impact security and work productivity,” said Burke about renovation.

County commissioners are expected to make a decision on the courthouse this month.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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