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01/02/2019

Nelson Pitches $16M Courthouse Renovations

County Judge John Alan Nelson is making the rounds, pitching the proposed $14 million in renovations to the Blytheville courthouse and $2 million to the Osceola courthouse.

Nelson spoke to the Rotary Club of Blytheville, Thursday, making a case for voters to approve extending the hospital tax, which is set to sunset in 2020. If extended 30 years on Feb. 12, the tax would be split between the hospital and courthouse renovations.

“The county has been managing a decline in that courthouse for the last several years and it continues to decline and we are going to get to a position where we are going to have to do something about it,” Nelson said. “The county is in good shape. The Quorum Court, and I’ve got [Justice] Michael White with me here today to help answer questions. The Quorum Court has done an outstanding job on our finances. The ‘county general’ has got roughly about $5 million in their account. The road funds have over a million dollars in their account. The landfill has over a million dollars in their account. So, we are in good shape, probably in as good of shape as I can ever remember...But what we have here on the table that I want to talk about is this new courthouse building and renovation.”

Nelson addressed the problems with the 100-year-old Blytheville courthouse and noted that the Mississippi County Hospital Board of Governors are on board and have done “an outstanding job” with the hospital.

Nelson explained, “Besides the fact that this building was built before telephones, insulation, air conditioners, space heaters, computers and all that stuff, it also has a problem with security. We have two courtrooms in there on the second and third floor and when you mix prisoners and their families in a very contentious circuit court case it’s not a safe place to be, especially when you’re all crowded. So, this elevates that...I am told by the people that made these plans here that you would not be able to tell the difference between the old courthouse and the new courthouse building that they’re going to build to it. That they are both going to be brand new. So, we are not going to go through and halfway fix this old one up. I mean we are going to spend about $14 million doing it. The total bond issue is $16,710,000. $14 million of it goes to Blytheville and $2 million goes to the Osceola courthouse to help renovate it and the rest of it is divided up between a two percent fee to issue the bonds and then there is going to be a half of the debt service reserve.”

Nelson continued, “The P&I on it is less than a $1 million a year, $985,562. That is based on today’s interest rates and it’s been changed since this last discount rate went up. So, it’s about $1 million and plus or minus a quarter of a percent. We have plenty of money to do it. What we are wanting to do is extend the hospital tax, which is planned to sunset in 2020 and rather than divide that money up and the hospital get so much and the courthouse get so much, what we’ve done is and we’ve gotten the Hospital Board of Governors together and tried to figure out the best suitable arrangements for them and we have we already put $8 million in it from this tax. Got it back on its feet and it has been very successful. Between that and the partnership with St. Bernard’s, it couldn’t have been done better and it couldn’t have been done without the tax. Right now, it’s going very well. The hospital doesn’t need all of that money. They still require some of that tax money. So, what we would do is set this out on a 30-year note and then what we would do is we would take the tax money, the revenue for that year. Payoff that mortgage for that year and then the hospital would get what is left and like I said that tax is bringing in $3.2 million a year, the P&I is at $1 million. So, the county courthouse is getting a million and the hospital is getting roughly $2 million, a little bit more than that… The courthouse, as far as the Quorum Court goes, we don’t want any extra money we just would like to get our building back in shape where it can go on for several more years.”

Nelson stated he plans to speak with Lions, the Chamber of Commerce and the Literacy Council in the upcoming weeks.

White stressed to the Rotarians that there will be two ballot measures and that both have to pass. One measure asks voters to extend the hospital tax and split it, while the other involves purchasing the bonds.

After speaking with Rotary, Nelson discussed his plans for the upcoming year as he assumes the County Judge position on Jan. 1.

“The courthouse is going to be the biggest issue and we are going to devote all of our time for the first six weeks of 2019 to get the information out to the voting public,” Nelson said. “So, that the referendum can have good, well-informed voters to cast their ballots on the second Tuesday in February. They’re some other things that we are going to be doing very, very quickly that I think you will see some changes to before the first of February and that is this total transparency that I have been talking about for the last year. We are going to tackle that immediately. I’ve already spoken with Wayne Reynolds, the Office of Emergency Services Director, and he also does a lot of our website and electronics in the courthouse. We are going to start with what we’ve got. We will eventually change over and get a new setup for our website, but we are going to be involved in social media as well and we are going to be getting out as much information as we can possibly come up with from the Judge’s office. So, I think that will make a huge difference and I think that people will notice that right off the bat. We are going to have expenditure guidelines in there every month. They will be made available the day they are made available for the Quorum Court and that is usually the last business day of the month, so that they will be prepared for next month. We will have all the funds accounts in there. We will have all of the revenues in there. We will have a calendar that is kept up to date every day. We are going to have a person that mans that type of thing eight hours a day, five days a week. Which it’s going to be a pretty daunting job but I think that’s what the public wants and that’s what we are going to do.”

Nelson added they are looking into issues with the solid waste department.

“We have some more things that we are wanting to do but I can’t comment on them right now but we are going to be able to raise revenues and lower our expenditures in our solid waste department and I’m very excited about those,” Nelson said. “We’ve had some counsel with an attorney to make sure that it was legal. I’ve got some of our finest young bankers that are building the budgets on those projects right now to make sure that they are viable and with a strategic plan that will show us where we will be at in five years. I’m anxious to share that with you but I’m going to wait until we are sworn in, in January, and I get some more information back from the bankers to make sure that we’ve got a viable project on our hands and I will really be excited about bringing that to you. Our foremost goal is to be maintaining the financial solvency that the county is in right now. We are going to make a lot of changes and we are going to make some big changes in county government that will either pay for itself or add to the county revenue. But we are certainly not going to, can’t spend your way into prosperity. So, that is going to be one of the main things is we are going to keep the monies that we have right now… We are really excited about 2019.”

Nelson explained there are some challenges ahead but the landfill has paid back the money it has borrowed from the county general fund.

“Our county landfill has paid back the last of the monies that it has borrowed from county general. They have borrowed $750,000 in the last 12 -18 months and they have paid all of that back. They got over a million dollars in their funds right now. They are back on their feet. They got a really good workforce. We do have some challenges in that area. We don’t have a full-time director. We’ve got two people out there with licenses that are adequate for the landfill, but they’ve got other jobs and they don’t want to lose those positions to take on director. So, we will have to find a director,” Nelson said. “We do have our old landfill that we have just moved from in the last two years. We spent a half of a million dollars on it this month. We’ve got another $2.5 to $3 million that we still have to pay in post-closure fees that we are going to have to pay. The one that we are on now is filling up pretty quickly. To open a new one is going to be over a million dollars and to excavate that hole and to build it. So, there are sometimes that it looks like the landfill is in really good shape and is making money but you go through these cyclical expenditures and you find out sometimes you’re broke but other times you think you’re on top. So, we are going to have to come out with a strategic plan there of 10, 15, 20 and 25 years so that we know exactly where we are financially and not just guessing.”

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