02/15/08 — County forges capital agenda

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County forges capital agenda

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on February 15, 2008 1:53 PM

As Wayne County’s commissioners began setting out their priorities for the upcoming year Wednesday, they first took a look at a potential long-range capital improvement plan.

This plan, which was created by county staff and consulting firm Davenport & Co., is not, County Manager Lee Smith emphasized, anything set in stone — simply a tool to begin discussion.

“This is just a draft,” he said. “I expect this to change as we move through the budget process. These are just things on the radar.”

On the list are the annual contributions to economic development, county, public school, and — as soon as a long-term outlook is submitted — community college pay-as-you-go small capital projects.

But it really begins with the $2.3 million animal shelter, which is scheduled to be completed in August, with approximately $500,000 contributed to the effort by the Wayne County Humane Society and others.

Next up, possibly to begin this fiscal year, are the county’s $7 million communication system improvements, as well as the $23 million school facilities plan.

Beyond this year, Smith explained, the project dates and dollar amounts become a little more speculative.

According to the preliminary schedule, the next capital project on tap for fiscal year 2009-10 would be the Mount Olive branch of the county library system at a cost of approximately $4 million.

Although, Smith added, because of the pro-active approach that community has taken in identifying a new facility, there is potential for that project to be moved up.

“The Mount Olive community is really stepping up,” he said. “At first brush, it sounds like a great opportunity.”

The rest of the library system — the proposed work on the Goldsboro branch and the consolidated northern end branch, estimated to be about $9 million — would likely be pushed out until about 2012-2013.

Moving back to 2010-11, though, the county could be looking at $800,000 for a new airport hangar, but most significantly, anywhere from $43 million to $53 million for a new detention center depending on whether the current facility is renovated and expanded, or a new one is built off-site.

“My problem with (renovating) is that it increases my number of staff substantially because of its inefficient layout,” Smith said.

For that reason, and because it would be cheaper and easier to build, he favors the off-site option.

Then, in 2011-12 and again in 2014-15, Smith explained, the county’s focus could return to the schools.

That would depend, though, he explained, on what sort of construction timeline is created between now and then, as he indicated that it would be unlikely for the remaining $80 million worth of projects in the school board’s priority list to all be done at once.

And right now, he continued, a bond referendum is at least a few of years away.

“I don’t see one for a couple of years,” he said. “The reality is, we don’t have a plan in place (for the rest of the $80 million). We’re just now in the throes of this $23 million.”

The final pieces of the long-range puzzle are the county Health Department, Depart-ment of Social Services and Services on Aging — all projected for fiscal years 2012-13 to 2013-14, at a collective cost of $37.5 million.

The vision, Smith explained, is for all of those buildings — plus a new building and grounds facility and new county office space — to be moved to a single campus on Clingman Street, next to the animal shelter.

All total, the cost for such a consolidated effort would be about $45 million.

“This would get us out of the old hospital and all those old houses (on Ash Street) and we could leave that area, but this is just a concept we came up with,” he said, noting that the land is already county-owned.

But, he again emphasized, like the rest of the plan, a county government complex is something still only in theory form.

“You can’t afford all of this right now, Smith said. “But the reality is, you’re staring at it.”

So, Commissioner Andy Anderson added, it’s time to begin nailing down a true timeline as closely as possible.

“We’ve got so many things going on right now it’s hard to get our hands around them and by the time it comes to do these things it may be a whole new ball game. But if we’re going to do it, let’s do it in a planned fashion,” Anderson said.

The tricky part, though, the consultants from Davenport explained, will be figuring out the best way to fund all of it while keeping the county’s debt level below 15 percent of its general fund, even as the county’s existing debt moves off its books within the next few years.

But even with that in mind, the consultants seemed to indicate a property tax increase for capital is likely to be needed at some point in the next 10 years. Although, Smith said, the quarter-cent sales tax, set for referendum on May 6, could help ease that.