02/26/10 — Commissioners set sights on new building plans

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Commissioners set sights on new building plans

By Steve Herring
Published in News on February 26, 2010 1:46 PM

Wayne County commissioners Thursday morning were briefed on a proposed $146 million preliminary capital improvements plan that includes new homes for the Health Department, Services on Aging and county jail as well as school and library projects.

The plan seeks to predict capital needs as far ahead as 2015-16.

"The first 24 months is very clear, it gets fuzzy past that," County Manager Lee Smith told commissioners during their planing retreat at the Goldsboro Country Club. "This does not mean it is going to happen. It just means that it has been requested. It has not been approved by commissioners yet. Out past that (six years), you don't know. It does not mean that you are going to do it."

Along with the project costs, the county also must take into consideration potential increases in operational costs, Smith said.

"You have to ask, 'You can afford the boat, but can you afford the gas for it?" he said.

Commissioners did not indicate when or if they would act on the proposal. Capital projects and the general budget were frozen last July, the first day that the current budget became effective.

One of the projects included in the proposal is renovation of the old Masons store property on William Street purchased by the county last year. It is the planned new home for the Health Department and Services on Aging. The $12 million estimated cost of the project would be spread over two budget years, 2010-11 and 2011-12.

'We have looked at what the Services on Aging and Health Department need and applied it to the square footage," Smith said. "We have a preliminary plan. I had estimated $12 million, but I will tell you now that it is $11.5 million for the total project."

Also proposed for the next fiscal year is $4 million for a shell building for industrial development.

Other proposals for 2011-12 include $14.446 million for the Eastern Wayne and Norwayne school projects that will be funded through lottery proceeds and $4 million for the Steele Memorial Library project in Mount Olive.

Smith said he thinks the $4 million library estimate might be "a little high," but that he still believes it is a good guess. The library will be housed in the old Belk's store building purchased by the county last year.

Proposed for 2013-14 and 2015-16 are $20 million for school construction.

"In 2012-13 you will see DSS and $8 million," Smith said. "That number is high and here is the reason. What we are doing now that we are doing health and Services on Aging on William Street, I have talked to DSS about actually staying in the existing facility and tearing down or selling off all of the other buildings, staying there renovating what we have and not building new.

"We have not done a new estimate there but it will come down. I think we can cut it down to $2 million to $3 million for renovating the existing building."

The Department of Social Services and the Health Department currently share space in the county office building on East Ash Street. The outlying properties are several houses being used for office space.

Library and jail projects are projected for 2014-2015. The proposal includes $53 million for the jail, although it could be pushed to a later date.

Another $9 million is projected for renovations to the main library on Ash Street and construction of a new library in the northern end of the county.

The Services on Aging project ignited a debate between Commissioner Andy Anderson and other board members.

"My feeling is, we talked about data, better jobs, better pay for the people in Wayne County," Anderson said. "The best way is to put as much money as we can in things that help the wealth of the county."

Anderson said he knows the Senior Citizens building is "lousy." However, the project can be delayed, while planning for it can continue, he said.

"Put the money and emphasis on things that will bring money into the county," Anderson said. "Don't make the big commitments for the Health Department or jail at this time, but start getting ready for them."

The county needs new, energy efficient buildings, Anderson said. The old ones the county is talking about renovating are losing energy, he noted. He suggested the county start planning for a new county complex.

"Keep building towards the wealth, but delay construction and see if you can get the other things done. Delay, if you can, until we see where the economy is going."

"We are living in the 21st century not the 1960s," countered Commissioner Steve Keen.

Keen said officials want people to move to the county. However, he said, that if he was looking at the county and had an elderly parent to look after that he would not want to move here.

"I am sorry, I don't want to come to Wayne County because I don't have the money to pay $5,000, $6,000 or $7,000 to put her in a nice place, but I want the county government, I want them to help," Keen said. "That is what we need. Picture Wayne County as we are in the 21st century -- we are at the next level. We are going to care for you if you come to Wayne County. That is the way I see it as a builder, as a developer, as a visionary, that Wayne County can be more than what it is today.

"We need those facilities. We recognize it (senior center) is a really bad place. It is right next to the courthouse. There is no parking. It is next to the day reporting center. It intimidates some of the elderly when they come after 6. Transportation is a problem getting to and from there. It is just not a good picture for the county to have that for the elders. We are growing, we are just older and the county is going to have to look after them."

Also, he said, the current senior center only has about eight rooms for programs.

Anderson said he was not disagreeing with Keen.

"But what is more important, saving kids, getting them off the streets and off of drugs or looking after the older people? Where is the priority?" Anderson said.

"Two things come to mind," Commissioner Sandra McCullen said. "First of all, it takes a village to raise a child. The other thing is that a community is measured by how it treats its elderly and it youth."

Anderson reiterated that he was not disagreeing and that the existing senior center is not "great quality."

"We heard a great presentation concerning our finances in Wayne County," Commissioner J.D. Evans said. "We are standing in the best potential place that we have in years. We are at the point that we can do something."

Evans called Anderson the "greatest visionary" on the board.

"But you have got to act on your visions sometimes, sir," he said. "But you won't let us act on your vision after you have put it in play. You don't want us to act on it. You can't move your vision. There comes a time in the process of your thinking that we have to move on your vision. Let us do that.

"Sandra, you are right, public support is important in what we do here," Evans added. "We have got to get ready for what is coming. So why should we put off what we have been shown we are capable of at this point based on the financial situation that was presented to us here today?"