Columbus County commissioners voted 5-2 Monday night to earmark $2,133,320 it received for the sale of the former Georgia-Pacific industrial site for renovations to the historic county courthouse. The county completed the sale of the property to the R.J. Corman Railroad last week.
The item was not on the meeting agenda. Commissioner Trent Burroughs brought it up during the “commissioners’ comments” portion of the session and made the motion to set the money aside for the old courthouse.
Commissioners had decided a couple of years ago to borrow up to $4 million for historic courthouse renovations but put those plans on hold when bids for the work came in substantially higher than had been anticipated. Late last fall, they voted to use that $4 million in borrowed money for school construction instead of on the old courthouse.
Besides Burroughs, James Prevatte, Edwin Russ, Charles McDowell and Chairman Amon McKenzie voted to earmark the G-P site proceeds for historic courthouse renovations. Voting no were Giles E. “Buddy” Byrd and Ricky Bullard.
In November 2016, commissioners voted 6-1 with Prevatte opposing to purchase the industrial site from Georgia Pacific for $2 million to prevent G-P from scrapping the site and materials, something that would have rendered the site unsuitable for future industrial purposes.
After Burroughs made his motion Monday, seconded by Prevatte, to apply money from the G-P sale to the historic courthouse, Bullard said, “I thought we were going to wait to see if we got some grants (before going further on courthouse renovations).”
McDowell replied, “We received a letter stating we would not receive any assistance from Raleigh (for the courthouse) because we had that money there and then we shifted it elsewhere.”
“Time may heal that, though,” said Byrd. “I feel like the money, the purchase price that we actually put into (buying) it, we need to put it into whatever account we took it out of, because there may be some other project that we may need it for. If you feel like you made any money on it (the sale), set that aside, but the initial purchase price should go back.”
Bullard asked, “When we borrowed that money, didn’t we agree that when we sold it, it would go back into the general fund?”
McDowell answered, “I don’t think so.”
Burroughs interjected, “All I know is that, sooner or later, we’re going to have to get the money to work on this courthouse project.”
Byrd replied, “And I think that in a year or two we can get grant money. If the state re-budgets another budget year, it’s very possible we could get grant money.”
Both Burroughs and McDowell agreed that the $2.133 million to be earmarked for courthouse renovations under Burroughs’ motion wouldn’t be nearly enough to take care of the renovations.
“We had the money set aside (for renovations), and we spent it (by committing it for school construction), and now we don’t have it set aside,” said Burroughs.
Finance Director Bobbie Faircloth reminded commissioners that no real dollars had been set aside. Instead, commissioners had agreed to borrow up to $4 million for courthouse renovations, but never actually borrowed the funds for that purpose. However, they voted unanimously in November to borrow the $4 million for school construction instead of for renovating the old courthouse.