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New Westmoreland Judicial Center project is officially approved

The Westmoreland Supervisors met on Sept. 10 and put their stamp of approval on the set of documents the jurisdiction’s Industrial Development Authority had ratified four nights earlier. As this edition of The Journal goes to press, all the ink has dried and Maryland-based building contractor W. M. Schlosser can begin preparing the ground immediately adjacent to the George D. English Building, where the new complex will stand.

The Judicial Center project is being financed by U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development with interest fixed at 3.375 percent over a 40-year life of Westmoreland County’s new debt service obligation. Bonds will be issued in an amount that will not exceed $9,124,000.00. The county government has leased the building site to the Authority and the Authority is responsible for repayment of the debt associated with construction of the new Judicial Center. When construction is completed, the Authority will rent the facility to the county government and proceeds from the rent will be used to fulfill the Authority’s debt service obligation.

During prior deliberations, County Administrator Norm Risavi provided assurances that the big ticket capital project won’t necessitate a tax hike. Using prior figures, he projected that the local courts will generate $200,000.00 in annual revenues that will be used to fulfill annual debt service obligations. Additional revenue streams dedicated to debt retirement obligations include annual payments in the amount of $50,000.00 which the county receives from E911 tower leases and the $75,000.00 collected from E911 land line fees.

Additional funds will become available in 2020, when the debt service obligation associated with past improvements to the A.T. Johnson complex is retired. The $160,459.00 in annual rental payments the county receives from the Health Department, Medical Center and Social Services will be used to retire the new debt service instrument. An additional $78,500 annual debt service obligation resulting from the county’s prior library construction projects will be retired as soon as 2020, allowing the jurisdiction to utilize that revenue to fulfill the debt resulting from the Judicial Center project.

When the Supervisors conducted their final Sept. 10 business to allow the capital project to go forward, previously vocal county residents delivered no commentary, despite the placement of a public comment segment on that meeting’s agenda. The public hearing conducted by the Industrial Development Authority on Sept. 6 had instead been the venue for citizens to deliver unanimous dissent. Only Board of Supervisors Chairman Darryl Fisher testified in favor of the project whose bottom line cost will approach $16,000,000.00 after interest payments have been made.

Lifelong county resident Steve Bryant warned the Authority of hidden costs associated with maintenance of the two-story Judicial Center. He provided visual documentation of what he characterized as the local government’s negligent maintenance of the existing public buildings and grounds.

Authority members Dick Allison and Rebecca Gillions joined the public in the expression of concern that the debt burden will be greater than the local tax base will be able to support in dire economic times. Gillions stood alone when voting not to move the project forward. Other members of the Authority acted with confidence and had little to say about the economics and the debt service instrument. Allison cast his reluctant vote with the majority.

The new Judicial Center will house the Sheriff’s Office, all the courts, the magistrate and the Commonwealth’s Attorney. Local government offices will remain in the George D. English Building.

 

Betsy Ficklin

 

 

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