April 23 hearing could be last hurdle for Justice Center

What could be the final hearing clearing the way for work to begin on the new Clay County Justice Center is set later this month.
Staff Writer

What could be the final hearing clearing the way for work to begin on the new Clay County Justice Center is set later this month.

Chancery Court Judge Dorothy Colom has scheduled an April 23 "validation" hearing for the financial certificates being issued by the Golden Triangle Planning and Development District's tax-exempt arm. Once that order is signed, the funding can be finalized and Benchmark Construction and its subcontractors can begin work.
Architect Roger Pryor said Tuesday that should be by early May.

More than 60 percent of the contractors working on the new center will be from within 50 miles of West Point and 37 percent will be minority businesses, the architect says.

The project will convert 20,000-square-foot former Jitney Jungle/Pass It On building on Main Street into offices, courtrooms and related space for Circuit and Justice courts.

Some of the local contractors involved include Graham Roofing, Ellis Steel, Roger Fox Masonry, Columbus Fence, Southern Cabinet of Okolona, Synergetics, Brislin Mechanical in Columbus, and Security Solutions in Starkville. Other area contractors will be involved in floor coverings, termite treatment, waterproofing and some of the demolition, Pryor said.

The county, operating through a lease-purchase agreement, will issue $3,965,000 for the project.

Of the $3.965 million, roughly $2.871 million is for actual construction, $495,000 is for the purchase of the 2.23-acre site, $174,000 is for architect and related fees, $220,000 is to cover interest during the first two years and $198,000 is for bond costs.

Based on the $127,778 current value of a mill, the county can fund the project with a negligible tax increase. And with any luck, it might not need one at all.

The financial numbers on the 20-year lease-purchase call for the county to pay a minimum of $306,000 to $310,000 a year in lease payments with the full amounts starting in 2021. However, the actual funding plan calls for the county to pay more than that each year with a target of paying the agreement off in 10 years and no more than 15 years.

Following that scenario, the county will save more than $1 million in principal and interest payments.

Consultants handling the sale expected an interest rate of about 4.15 percent, but it came in much lower at 3.91 percent, saving the county money and meaning the payoff could come earlier and the county can put more away for remodeling the existing courthouse and furnishing the new center.

Chancery Court and the Tax Assessor will remain in the existing Courthouse with some modifications to the building. Supervisors haven't decided what to do with the Justice Court building.

Work on the other county buildings may be done with inmate labor once the Justice Center is opened, probably sometime in the summer of 2019.

The county has been planning this process for well over a year, setting up potential financial scenarios to minimize the impact on taxpayers while maximizing potential benefits.

The $260,000 the county has been putting aside will continue for two more years, leaving enough money in a nest egg to furnish and equip the new building with some possibly left over for renovations at the existing buildings.