Brother can you spare a dime?
If so, please call the Guilford County commissioners who are now trying to figure out how to come up with millions and millions of dollars to fund a host of major new construction projects, including a new animal shelter, a new Emergency Services maintenance facility, a new mental health center and a massive renovation of the old jail in downtown Greensboro.
According to current estimates, completing all of those projects will cost well north of $75 million and that’s for a county government that hasn’t raised property taxes since 2012. In fact, the commissioners have lowered taxes in some of those years. In recent work sessions and meetings, the commissioners have discussed at length which projects to proceed with and how to pay for them.
Commissioner Hank Henning said he’s starting to get uncomfortable with the looming costs and all the uncertainty.
“We have all these balls we’re juggling in the air,” Henning said, adding that there are still significant decisions left regarding all the projects. “We’re halfway on some and a third on others and on the [old jail renovation] we’re still undecided.”
Guilford County Manager Marty Lawing said this week that the new animal shelter is about “30 percent designed” and the Emergency Services facility project is being put out for bids.
The Board of Commissioners hasn’t publically discussed how to pay for a new $14 million mental health facility and, this week, the commissioners are hotly debating the future of the old jail renovation plan.
Commissioner Jeff Phillips said this is a perilous time for the board with all the major projects in the works. He said he didn’t want the county to get its “back against the wall” and have its hand forced into a property tax increase.
He said that, due to that threat, he was currently “very sensitive” to every construction decision the board makes.
Phillips and several other commissioners also said they’ve been very concerned about the way that every construction project the county decides to do seems to come in much higher than originally estimated.
All of this might not bode well for the old jail renovation project, which seems to be fairly low on the county’s the list of priorities right now.
One strategy the commissioners are exploring is doing the projects in phases. For instance, the jail renovation, estimated to cost over $17 million, might be done over a period of years. Guilford County Manager Marty Lawing said that would have drawbacks.
“It would be more expensive to renovate it three years from now than it would now,” Lawing said. “And it would be cumbersome for the people in the building trying to work.”
The county could also dip into its saving fund, which is now at $83 million, however county staff warns that spending any of that money might jeopardize the county’s excellent credit rating.