02/01/13 — County weighs cost of upkeep

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County weighs cost of upkeep

By Steve Herring
Published in News on February 1, 2013 1:46 PM

The average age of the 32 buildings owned by the County of Wayne is 55 years, and the county must dedicate itself to a maintenance budget to preserve and extend the lives of those buildings, said Wayne County Facilities Director Milford Smith.

"Otherwise 10 years from now we are going to find ourselves right back where we are now," he told the county commissioners' Facilities Committee at its Tuesday afternoon meeting.

The needs range from major projects like new roofs and heating and air conditioning to smaller ones that can be handled in-house, he said.

Facilities were identified as one of commissioners' top issues during their planning retreat earlier last month. Commissioners want a list of all county-owned buildings, who the tenants are, and whether they are paying rent.

No decisions were made or actual project costs discussed Tuesday by the committee that is chaired by Commissioner Ray Mayo. Also serving are Commissioners Wayne Aycock and Steve Keen.

"Why we are here is to sort of get a handle on facilities, what their condition is," Mayo said. "This will be a tremendous help to us doing our new budget and looking down the road at what we need to do with the facilities in Wayne County to coordinate the future years of growth for our county."

The facilities are valued at more than $44 million, said Smith, who has been facilities director for about three months.

"One of the things that I feel that we have not done for 20 years is realistically looked at what cycling replacement really means," Smith said. "We have air conditioners that are 40 years old. We can't ignore that anymore. That is why the capital budget is necessarily going to have to change.

"For us to ever get ahead of the curve, we have to prioritize. After commissioners give us the vision of where we want to be five years from now as far as use of our buildings then Mr. (County Manager Lee) Smith and I can work on getting it there."

Committee members said they needed similar guidance from Milford Smith, too.

"It was amazing to me that when you put it all down on paper just how much that we really do have," the facilities director said. "One of the things that is interesting is that most of our facilities are downtown. That is something that we want to look at."

Smith said that he had been looking at the county's capital improvement plan with an eye towards reprioritizing and shifting funds around if possible to hold off on some things in order to address more pressing needs.

A completed list of that study is expected within the next 30 days, he said.

A good example, he said, is a proposed teen center at the Ash Street branch of the public library.

"I personally don't feel like we need a teen center when you can't walk on the (library) roof, it is in that bad a shape. That is what I am saying, we have some priorities that we need to look at. That is not a one- or two-week project. We have to look at it and make some really serious decisions."

Keen asked the facilities director on several occasions for the square-foot operating costs of certain buildings. Each time, Smith said that he did not yet have that data, but was in the process of compiling it.

Mayo said commissioners are planning for a field trip in the near future to every single property that the county owns.

Using a printout of a PowerPoint presentation, Smith took the committee of a tour of all county facilities. He provided a brief description of each, the condition of the facility and who the tenant is.

However, one facility, the old Belk department store in Mount Olive was not mentioned even though another undeveloped property, the old Masons department store on William Street, was discussed.

Smith said the omission was "pretty much an oversight."

The Belk building is to be the home of Mount Olive's new library that will serve as a regional facility.