County's capital project list close to $289.9M
By Steve Herring
Published in News on November 21, 2010 1:50 AM
The clock is ticking and Wayne County commissioners will need to act by early January to position the county to seek $15 million in federal funding to pay for major renovation projects at Norwayne and Eastern Wayne middle schools.
Waiting in the wings is the start of preliminary planning to renovate the old Masons department store on William Street to serve as the new home for the county Health Department and Services on Aging. Also, moving closer is the proposed renovation of the former Belk's department store in Mount Olive that would house Steele Memorial Library.
The projects are part of a draft preliminary capital improvement plan that carries a $289.9 million price tag and would require a 30-cent tax increase to help pay for all of the plan and associated increases in operational costs.
The proposal was unveiled during county commissioners' almost three-hour workshop at the Goldsboro Country Club. No action was taken and County Manager Lee Smith reminded the board that it is a draft plan only.
While county officials say it is time to move forward on these projects, they continue to look for ways to further delay construction of a new $72 million 500-bed jail.
Smith said the jail would be built off site from the downtown area and would include the Sheriff's Office and magistrates' offices and would require 25 acres. No site has been selected, Smith said.
The county, over the past several years, has worked to keep the jail population below 200 inmates. One way has been through electronic monitoring -- something Smith wants to expand.
Smith said he plans to include appropriations in his 2011-12 budget proposal for two additional employees for the Day Reporting Center and 80 to 100 additional electronic monitoring machines.
It costs about $1.4 million annually to house 80 inmates in the jail compared to $125,000 for the two employees and additional monitoring equipment -- a savings of $1.3 million, he said.
The jail project would be spread over two years -- $7.2 million in 2014-15 and $64.8 million in 2015-16.
Commissioners did indicate an interest in pursuing $15 million through the federal Qualified School Construction Bonds program for Norwayne and Eastern Wayne middle schools. The program has been around for several years and is basically a no interest loan, Smith said.
The county would utilize lottery proceeds to pay the principal and local funds for the interest. At the end of the year, the federal government would reimburse the interest.
The rub for commissioners is that it is uncertain how the Republican surge in the Congress could affect the program.
However, Bob High of Davenport and Company, the county's financial consultants, said that should funding be cut for the program that the county could refinance.
Commissioner Steve Keen wanted to know if any other decisions would be made on the proposed plan prior to completion of the ongoing county-wide property revaluation.
"The only other thing that I will ask of you is I will be bringing back a cost on the first phase of preliminary design for Services on Aging and Health," Smith said.
Revaluation will continue until early spring.
"Then you can decide do we want to go forward. The only other decision is the Mount Olive library," Smith said.
The county's part of the library project is $3.5 million, he said. The Friends of Steele Memorial Library is trying to raise $350,000 for the design work. The library is tentatively listed for 2011-12.
Projected for fiscal year 2011-12, the Health Department and Services on Aging project is estimated will cost $13 million.
That is considerably less than the $45 million that was estimated to be needed to build from scratch, Smith said.
The county last week applied for a $500,000 Hope grant through the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center for the project. Another $500,000 will be sought that can be used on building renovations.
"We have not done much in the past two years," Commissioner Andy Anderson said. "We need to get started on this. We need to ask for lottery money as soon as we can."
"We couldn't afford this in (20)07 when the plan was originally put together when we were at the peak," Keen said. "Now we turn around in 2010 and borrow $15 million and not really sure how to handle it. I am not ready to commit on $15 million. It is the third time I have heard, 'we all' and I am not part of the all."
Chairman Jack Best said the county could have afforded the $15 million in 2007. He said the county at that time had five projects, but had decided to proceed with three. Then in 2008 "the market went crazy" before the other projects at Eastern Wayne and Norwayne could be started, he said.
"Sooner or later we are going to have to accept it and get on with our needs," Commissioner John Bell said. "If it is going to cost $15 million to do a project now, three or four years from now it may cost us $20 million. It is not going to get any cheaper. Somewhere along the line you have got to decide what to do."
Bell said the county had put off work on the old Borden building and as a result the cost grew from $1.8 million to $4.2 million.
Other major projects on the proposal include:
* Central Attendance Area schools, $6.5 million
* Spring Creek Elementary School, $3.85 million
* Charles B. Aycock High School, $6.6 million
* Economic development shell building, $4 million
* Department of Social Services building renovation, $4 million
* New Spring Creek and Grantham middle schools, $35,379,680
* Library, $8 million
* Airport expansion, $8.5 million
* New northern elementary and middle school, $29,618,740.