Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

October 19, 2013

Early voting starts Monday for courthouse bond

By Bob Belcher
Corsicana Daily Sun

Corsicana — The fate of a proposed historic restoration of the Navarro County Courthouse is in the hands of the county’s registered voters.

And, it’s decision time — early voting for the Nov. 5 General Election starts on Monday.

Navarro County voters will decide whether to authorize a $7.5 million bond issue to help fund the work, bolstered by a $4.4 million state grant and at least $1 million in local grant funds.

The Texas Historical Commission awarded the county the $4.4 million grant for the project in January 2012. Commissioners decided in July to let voters decide the question of issuing bonds to finance the county’s share of the project.

The restoration work alone is budgeted at just over $9 million according to figures provided by the county. Additional costs, including the expense to build a new annex building, acquire new technology, pay for leased space for county operations for up to three years, and physically move the courthouse operations to the temporary location — and back again after the work is complete — are expected to add another $3.86 million to the project’s costs, for a bottom line projected total of $12,875,030, according to the county’s numbers.

The end result will be some much needed improvements to the 108-year-old structure, including electrical, mechanical, plumbing and technical makeovers, a new heating/air conditioning system, and a return to the original look and layout of the building.

And, the new county annex will house some offices that will be displaced by the restoration work. Texas Historical Commission’s grant requires the county to restore the original balcony to the district courtroom, eliminating the office space currently used by the probation department on the courthouse’s third floor.

The annex will likely be the new home of the Tax Assessor/Collector and the probation departments, although other offices might be relocated in the new building as well, said County Judge H.M. Davenport Jr.

Taxpayers shouldn’t see any tax increase as a result of the project, according to figures provided by the county.

Davenport said the commissioners court voted this year to make use of funds from the county’s general fund balance — in addition to part of a $1 million grant from the Navarro Community Foundation — to keep from having to increase property tax rates while paying for items in the project that can’t be paid for with grant or bond funds.

“Assuming commissioners do that in subsequent years, then there will be no short term impact on taxes,” Davenport said. “Every year we have to look at our revenues and look at our expenses and make a decision on what the tax rate is going to be.”

The county’s only other bond debt — the Navarro County Justice Center project — will be paid off in 2015, which will allow the county to establish a new 2 cent debt service tax to go toward paying for the courthouse restoration bond.

The county looses the state grant if voters reject the bond, according to Susan Gammage of the Texas Historical Commission, with the $4.4 million going to another county or project.

Early voting for the Nov. 5 election, which includes the county’s bond election and several state propositions, will take place in the basement of the courthouse from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 21 to 26, and Oct. 28 through Nov. 1.

Election day is Tuesday, Nov. 5, with polls open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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Bob Belcher may be reached by email at bbelcher@corsicanadailysun.com. Want to “Soundoff” on this story? Email: soundoff@corsicanadailysun.com