Locals get big chunk of Justice Center business

 Architect Roger Pryor talks with Clay County supervisors and their attorney, Angela Turner-Ford, during Thursday's meeting.
Staff Writer

More than 60 percent of the contractors working on the new Clay County Justice Center will be from within 50 miles of West Point and 37 percent will be minority businesses, the architect for the project said Thursday.

The update from Roger Pryor, of Pryor and Morrow Architects, came as Clay County Supervisors gave final approval to the project, which will convert the 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.

Work, which is being overseen by Benchmark Construction as the managing contractor, could start in May.

"The bidding took two months, that's twice as long as usual, but we were charged with doing all we could to get small, local and minority contractors," Pryor told supervisors, noting 71 different businesses were asked to participate. "The process has worked.

"There are going to be a lot of Clay, Oktibbeha and Lowndes county tags on the job site. I'm delighted with the way it turned out," he continued saying from fiber optics and TV screens to secure parking areas and an emergency generator, the county got "everything it wanted."

"And the best thing about it is we'll never outgrow it," District 2 Supervisor Luke Lummus said.

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 with the tax-exempt arm of the Golden Triangle Planning and Development District, will issue $3,965,000 for the project.

Of the $3.965 million, $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 $312,000 to $314,000 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.

The bonds likely be issued by the end of next week with the county having the money in the bank sometime around April 22.

Consultants handling the sale expect an interest rate of about 4.15 percent.

The financing plan includes several elements but relies heavily on revenues and taxes already in place.

Starting in the current budget year, supervisors have put aside $260,000 in revenues that had been allocated to other purposes that have been paid off. Starting next year for the Justice Center project, supervisors also will have available .25 mill from a $230,000 2014 bond issue that is paying for the new voting precinct the county built on Brame Avenue.

If nothing changes, a .1 mill tax increase would be needed in 2020 and another .1 mill in 2021. Combined on a $100,000 home, that would amount to $2 a year in additional taxes.

If the value of a mill goes up even slightly, the county likely would not need the small tax increase, financial consultants have said.

By the time the full plan is in place, the county would have more than $381,000 available for payments, making it easier to pay the lease off earlier.

Construction is expected to take about a year.

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 county's first lease payment will be a partial one, $76,353 in April 2020, with the full payments starting the next year.

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.