Fri08012014

Last updateWed, 19 Nov 2014 8pm

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Judicial Center costs are greater than expected

Westmoreland County has received the bids it solicited from prospective Judicial Center contractors and the costs are greater than had been previously supposed. If the low bid is approved when the Supervisors reconvene in a July 30 joint session with the county’s Industrial Development Authority (IDA), the construction cost will be established at $190 per square foot instead of the initially hoped for $150 per square foot cost.

The joint meeting of July 30 promises to be a real humdinger. People expressed profound displeasure during the Supervisors’ July 9 session, when it was announced that contractor bids were back and the county would move forward with its plans.

In order to borrow $9,124,000 from U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development, the county government had to turn the debt obligation over to its appointed IDA. The IDA will borrow the money and preside over the construction project in the same way it managed creation and development of Westmoreland County’s Industrial Park. It is anticipated that upon completion, the new Judicial Center will be leased to the county government for a ten dollar fee.

Residents expressed their outrage when it became understood that the high dollar project and debt obligation will be moved forward without the benefit of public input or earnest consideration of design and other considerations. The federal loan will have an interest rate of 3.375 percent and its duration will be set at now fewer than thirty years and no more than forty years.

Preliminary cost estimates made available soon after the March 22, 2012 meeting of Westmoreland County IDA anticipated a loan totaling as much as $9,730,000, with interest fixed at 3.375 percent for a duration of 30 to 40 years.

Cost of construction estimates included in the federal funding application were based on the premise that a 40,732 square foot structure could be built at a cost not greater than $200 per square foot. The application’s subsequent construction total was $8,146,400, with an additional $814,640 borrowed and held in a contingency account to cover possibly greater materials and labor costs.

According to past explanations, the loan package would additionally over the projected $162,960 cost of equipment the Judicial Complex will require. $13,000 will be expended on legal fees and architectural fees are expected to total $126,00. Engineering fees will account for an additional $131,050.

With bids in hand this Monday evening, County Administrator Norm Risavi apprised the Supervisors of the need to continue the July 9 meeting in order to meet jointly with the county’s IDA. He advised that the low bidder’s references are being reviewed by a consultant and architect.

The joint session will be convened at 6 p.m. on Monday, July 30 in A.T. Johnson auditorium and Risavi anticipates that meeting’s outcome will be acceptance of a contractor bid that will move the project forward and seal the loan commitment with the federal agency.

When the public was offered an opportunity to weigh in, District 2 resident Robert Quinn expressed concern that “the continued meeting with the IDA will be a repeat of what we experienced with O’Gara.”

Quinn purported that the Supervisors had previously led the local residents to believe their input would be sought before any action was taken to move the judicial center project forward.

“We need a transparent situation that allows members of the public to air their views,” Quinn stated.

“Is the IDA going to have a public hearing before they vote to get this loan?” lifelong Westmoreland resident Steve Bryant questioned. “Now that we don’t have to build this court house and with our schools in such deplorable condition, what do we want with a new court house that looks like a prison?

“You need to look at alternatives and try to save money, because the children are suffering. School windows are falling out and the flashing is falling off. I know we’re under a lot of pressure, but we have to start thinking rationally,” Bryant told the members of the Board. “All I ask is that we all rethink this matter.”

Bryant’s comment that the Board could not be forced to build the new judicial center resulted from his understanding of a 2012 Virginia General Assembly action ending local judges’ ability to compel a county government to build new court facilities. 

Past and present judges directed the Westmoreland Supervisors to provide new court facilities. The facility proposed for Westmoreland reflects specifications provided by the judges and will include accommodations for other members of the law enforcement community.

Businessman and Citizens Association President Kennon Morris followed Bryant to the podium and concurred that the public had been promised a public hearing opportunity to address the judicial complex question.

“The bids are in but you’re going to the IDA to get funding from Rural Development. Then the IDA can lease the judicial center back to the county for ten dollars.

“You aren’t being honest with the people when you circumvent the public,” Morris told the Westmoreland County Supervisors.

“It appears we have a couple older people on the Board who don’t care what the people think!”

Margaret Quinn addressed the subject, expressing disappointment that responsibilities had been transferred to the county’s IDA, an appointed entity that is not subjected to state code-driven transparency requirements the county’s elected officials must uphold.

“The public was promised an open meeting, where they could get information and voice their opinions. I’m extremely disappointed,” she commented.

“Once again, citizens are being ignored.

“I want a transparent government and I’m not seeing it tonight,” Quinn told the members of the Westmoreland County Board.

Past District 2 Supervisor Russ Culver told the Board he’d “like the Board to have an open meeting with the public, reviewing the contractor bids and giving the public their informational time and opportunity to deliver comments of their own.

“I don’t want another O’Gara situation, where people felt they weren’t being listened to,” Culver told the members of the Board.

Culver’s comment ended that discussion.

 

Betsy Ficklin

 

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