Annex getting facelift for tax office needs

Published 6:00 am Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Portions of the Lincoln County tax office will move into the oldCourthouse Annex next year after supervisors on Monday approvedlight renovations for the structure.

Bogue Chitto’s Redd Construction will handle the lightdemolition and repair work on the 65-year-old building, possiblybeginning this week. The $41,330 project is designed to spruce upthe building’s interior and provide the necessary space andfunctions for the tax office’s appraising and mapping functions tomove in.

“Nothing major, just a facelift on the inside so the assessor’soffice can move into the building,” said Ryan Holmes, a civilengineer with county engineering firm Dungan Engineering, PA. “Justto make it more conducive to their work flow so they can get theircomputers in there, have proper storage space and the counter spacethey’ll need to serve the public.”

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Holmes said plans call for the removal of one section ofinterior wall to extend a counter that will serve the public, andfor fresh paint, new carpet and a new ceiling to be installed.Minor electrical work – especially the installation of additionaloutlets – will be necessary, and the damaged plaster ceilings willbe removed and the lightweight concrete beneath them repainted, hesaid.

Minor repairs to the building’s heating and cooling system areongoing, and the once-leaky roof has been repaired, Holmes said. Hesaid the company that handles computer networking for thecourthouse will wire the building into the main system once work iscomplete.

“The facelift itself is going to make it look a lot better,”Holmes said. “That’s why we tried to limit the amount of work – wethink we can make it usable without the county putting a terribleamount of money into it.”

Though the price tag for the project is in excess of $40,000,supervisors will only need to spend around $10,000 from this year’scounty budget, said County Administrator David Fields. He said morethan $30,000 of the project would be funded using money left overfrom a 2007 bond issue for courthouse repairs.

Supervisors accepted Redd Construction’s low estimate of $41,330under a state law that does not require advertising for bids onwork costing less than $50,000.

“When you’re operating on a $15 million budget, you can usuallyscrape up $10,000,” Fields said. “It isn’t going to be a newbuilding, but it’s going to be pretty nice. After we got in thereand cleaned it out and really started looking at things, a lot ofjust little patching, paint and flooring will do wonders.”

A long, public debate over the future of the Courthouse Annexthat began almost one year ago is finally set to wind down aftersupervisors’ green lighted the renovations Monday.

Supervisors voted in January not to renew a lease on thebuilding held by the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheriesand Parks, which had operated its 12-county District Fiveheadquarters from the site since 1996. Supervisors intended toreclaim the building and restore it for use by the tax office,which has run out of workspace as the county grew over the last twodecades.

The general public responded with criticism, and more than 1,000county and city residents signed a petition urging supervisors torecant their decision, citing economic and safety bonuses stemmingfrom the office’s location in Brookhaven.

Supervisors attempted to negotiate a solution with MDWF&P,but the deal fell apart in July when each side’s demands for spaceand money could not be reconciled. MDF&P wanted to continuerenting the entire building for $500 per month, while supervisorswanted to halve the building to make room for the tax office andraise the rent to $1,000 a month to cover for extensiverenovations.

District Two Supervisor Bobby Watts argued for the annex’sdemolition during the summer discussions, urging supervisors toconstruct a new, three-story building that could house both the taxand wildlife offices and be ready for further expansion in thefuture.

Watts has maintained that spending money on the old building iswasteful, charging that many more repairs will be needed as thestructure ages. He fears the building will become a money pit inthe future as it deteriorates, and has voted against renovationsmultiple times.

“It’s a quick fix, like putting a patch on an old pair ofoveralls. Every time you bend over, it pops out again,” Watts saidMonday.

Other supervisors, like District Three Supervisor NolanWilliamson, have argued the county can’t afford a million-dollarconstruction project in the uncertain economy.

“I would love to have a new one, but right now, the way moneyis, we’ve just got to make do,” he said. “That’s a good building -it’ll do. A little paint has helped many a place.”