Supervisors OK tax office plan for annex bldg.

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The old Courthouse Annex building will soon host functions ofthe Lincoln County Tax Office after supervisors decided Monday toperform limited renovations and keep the 65-year-old structure inuse.

The tax office’s assessing and mapping departments will moveinto the front half of the building at 304 South Second St., whilecounty records will be moved from the Kees Building on First Streetand stored in the rear half, freeing up monthly rent the county hasbeen paying for the space. Supervisors are planning a limited”facelift” – “renovations” is too strong a word, they said – tobring the building’s aging internal systems up to speed.

The plan also calls for the current tax office to be renovatedand the collections department to expand into both availableoffices in the Lincoln County-Brookhaven Government Complex. Noofficial vote on the plan was taken Monday, and supervisors areplanning the restructuring effort piece-by-piece.

Supervisors reached the decision after reviewing the findings ofa two-month architectural study performed by Dan Dillard, ofNatchez-based Waycaster and Associates Architects. His reportrecommended the building only as a short-term solution for storingrecords and housing departments that have “(no) or limited publicinteraction.”

Dillard approved supervisors’ plan for limited renovations,saying that adjusting the tax office’s requirements to fit theserviceability of the building – rather than attempting a fullrenovation or new construction, which could cost in the millions -would be cost-effective.

“You can get some more wear out these tires instead of buying anew set of Michelins,” he alluded. “I would certainly think you’regoing at it the most nickel-stretching way.”

Despite earlier concerns and criticisms of the Courthouse Annex,Lincoln County Tax Assessor/Collector Nancy Jordan told supervisorsearly in Monday’s discussion that she is ready to move herappraising, mapping and records functions into the building. Sherequested several repairs to the building before her employees movein, including repairs to its leaky roof; a dropped ceiling of newtiles to catch the tiny white flakes raining down from thecrumbling plaster ceiling; electrical and plumbing upgrades and anenlarged front counter.

“There’s one wall that needs to come out to make the counterlong enough to serve the public,” Jordan said.

Dillard estimated the Courthouse Annex renovations would costless than $250,000.

The approved plan brings to a conclusion an almost yearlongstruggle for supervisors, who have seen the annex go from the12-year home to the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheriesand Parks’ District Five headquarters to a thorn in their politicalsides.

Supervisors voted not to renew MDWF&P’s lease on thebuilding in January, intending to use the space for the tax office,which has outgrown its current location in the courthouse.

The ouster of the wildlife department proved unpopular with thepublic, and over the summer supervisors weathered heavy criticismand a round of failed negotiations to keep the state office inBrookhaven. The District Five headquarters reopened in Magnolialast week.

Throughout the ordeal, supervisors stuck to their guns,reviewing construction and renovation options that would relievesome of the burden on the cramped tax office.

“This is where this thing has been headed since the beginning,”said Lincoln County Chancery Clerk Tillmon Bishop.

Now, the real work will begin. At supervisors’ request, LincolnCounty Sheriff Steve Rushing said jail trustys would begin cleaningand clearing the Courthouse Annex next week.

To make sure records only have to be moved once, Bishop plans toschedule an inspection by the Mississippi Department of Archivesand History to see how many of the county’s plentiful collection ofrecords can be thrown away. Some records, like land records, mustbe kept indefinitely.

With such a big project looming, Bishop suggested supervisorsappoint a coordinator for the renovations and relocation. No pointman was named Monday, though county engineers Dungan Engineering,PA, may get the job.

“It’s not just moving records and painting, it’s dealing withthe current tax office and it’s going to take some time,” Bishopsaid.