Justice Center closing set Friday

Monday's validation hearing in Chancery Court was a formality to give the public a chance to file written or in-person objections to the project, which will convert the 20,000-square-foot former Jitney Jungle/Pass It On building on Main Street in West Point into three courtrooms, offices, meeting rooms and other space for Circuit and Justice courts.
By: 
STEVE ROGERS
Staff Writer

In the short time it took an attorney to read a few lines in court and a judge to sign an order, the planned Clay County Justice Center took another step Monday.

All that remains now is Friday's official closing on the lease-purchase deal and work could start within days.

Monday's validation hearing in Chancery Court was a formality to give the public a chance to file written or in-person objections to the project, which will convert the 20,000-square-foot former Jitney Jungle/Pass It On building on Main Street in West Point into three courtrooms, offices, meeting rooms and other space for Circuit and Justice courts.

With no objections filed, the court "validated" up to $4.1 million in certificates of participation between the county and the tax-exempt arm of the Golden Triangle Planning and Development District.

With the order signed, the funding can be finalized, the deal closed Friday and Benchmark Construction and its subcontractors can begin work.

"We'll know at the closing when they will begin work. Very soon we all hope," said Chancery Court Clerk Amy Berry.

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.

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, according to project architect Roger Pryor of Pror and Morrow.

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.

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