- Last Updated on Wednesday, 15 August 2012 15:34
- Published on Wednesday, 15 August 2012 15:34
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The public hearing that Westmoreland Industrial Development Authority (IDA) will convene at 6 p.m. next Monday evening in old A.T. Johnson auditorium is the last chance residents have to express their sentiments concerning the 40-year debt service obligation and nearly $16,000,000 cost associated with the county’s proposed judicial center project.
On Aug. 13 the Board of Supervisors conducted its own public hearing and then delivered a vote to accept Maryland contractor W. M. Schlosser’s low bid and move forward with construction. A second vote asked the IDA to accept a 40-year loan with a 3.375 percent interest rate from U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development.
The Supervisors have asked the IDA to proceed with the minimum borrowing proposal developed by Davenport & Company LLC. Only 91 percent of the $8,295,000 costs would be financed. To offset unanticipated expenses, five percent of the total construction cost would be held in a contingency account. Contingency monies would be derived from previously existing county funds.
As reported previously, the project’s annual debt service obligation of approximately $350,508.00 would not result in higher taxes.
Following retirement of prior debt service obligations, revenues derived from such sources as court fees and the rent of county-owned facilities would be directed to the new debt service obligation.
After receiving separate briefings from the judicial center project’s architect and finance counsel, residents filling the Aug. 13 meeting room were not convinced the project should proceed. During the nearly two hours of deliberations, residents delivered unanimous opposition to assuming what was widely characterized as a dangerous level of debt in a financially troubled and uncertain period. No arms were raised when the public was invited to provide a show of hands in support of going forward with the judicial center project.
In addition to profound concern about the county’s economic future, neighbors stated their opposition to having such a facility in the middle of an otherwise residential area. Immediate neighbor Eddie Bowen warned that locating the facility’s prisoner sally port immediately adjacent to his front yard will endanger the lives of his small children.
When the time came to vote on the question of going forward, District 2 Supervisor Rosemary Mahan voted no. Outgunned by the 4-1 majority, she voted yes on the finance consideration, recommending that the county borrow the smallest possible amount of money needed to support the project.
When the public made it known that no one in the audience supported the proposed debt service obligation, Mahan addressed her Board of Supervisors colleagues.
“I cannot ignore the silence, the deafening non-show of hands,” Mahan related.
“I’ve been going back and forth on the decision,” said Supervisor Dorothy Tate. The District 3 representative then revealed that she had received threats from project opponents. She then expressed a wish that education needs receive priority attention instead of law enforcement and the courts.
District 4 Supervisor Woody Hynson spoke about education, too. He advised that the judicial center needs must be immediately addressed and warned that the county school division’s next building project is expected to cost four times as much as the judicial center’s bottom line.