County commissioners have halted a building project for the Department of Social Services that began in July 2017.
The decision was made at a March 5 meeting after considering new priorities and financial ability for the DSS building, a new middle school and an agricivics center. Barron Monroe, the county manager, said financial implications would make moving DSS to the empty building on East Caswell Street beside Food Lion a better option.
Commissioner Jim Sims questioned the county’s ability to handle all three projects at once, directing his questions to Monroe and Cary Garner, the finance officer to the board. The new middle school project is already seeded with $20 million, of which $15 million is coming from Needs Based School Capital Fund Grant from the state in October; another $5 million is a match from Anson County government.
“We’ve already done some building, and we’ve got three right now that we’re considering,” said Commissioner Jim Sims. “An elephant in the room is that you have over 50 percent of the money available for the school.”
Monroe said he doubted the project would cost $50 million, but he’s considering a worse-case scenario. He’s also considering another $10 million possibly coming to Anson County through the legislature.
“We are talking about three projects, so it depends on where we’re at in terms of how close they go to construction,” Garner said. “We’re not nearly as far as I would’ve thought we’d be. “
Monroe went on to say, “No one is disputing the need for the DSS building.”
He said the county should think about prioritizing the order of their three projects; and his concern is from a financial standpoint. He also said the county has limited capacity to go after all of the projects at the same time.
“Right now, one big issue for the DSS building funding-wise is that we were supposed to get 55 percent reimbursement from the state,” Monroe said. “However, over time, looking through the schematics and looking at the formulas, that is not correct.”
Monroe said a 15-year lease will only give the county a 29 percent reimbursement; and the cost of the $6.4 million building will increase to $8 million.
“That automatically captures our opinion as to whether or not we can afford it,” Monroe added.
Several county commissioners agreed with Monroe’s suggestion to renovate for now, instead of building at the Anson High School Road site.
“Every year that you put off the school, architects are saying $10 million extra,” Sims said.
“I agree with Commissioner Sims,” said Ross Streater, the commission chairman. “The school needs to go first.”
Monroe spoke to the board about the East Caswell Street location for rennovations as a new DSS building.
He said there is approximately the same amount of square footage as the new building, and there are tiles and roof. The owners will do some of the renovations necessary, he said, and the location is recognizable with parking already established. He described it as safe and of easy access.
“It would help benefit that area as much as it will benefit costumers,” Monroe said.
Renting the location would cost $21,000, but with a reimbursement from the state, it would cost the county $9,000 a month. It would take 50 years of renting to add up to the $6 million it would take to build from the ground.
“We will be saving money,” Monroe added.
“In order to attract people to your county, there are several things they really look at,” said Commissioner Vancine Sturdivant.
Sturdivant added that people look at security, the schools, especially when they have small children.
Commissioner Lawrence Gatewood expressed support for the new middle school, but feels the county also needs the DSS building. Gatewood was volunteer project manager for the new budiling.
“As I see things, a county of our size, should be able to support the funding of a new DSS building, as well as a new middle school,” Gatewood said. “I don’t see competition between the two.”
Gatewood also reminded commissioners and citizens that the board has already committed $11 million to the agricivics center, as well. That project is in the early stages.
Monroe said that with the DSS building alone, taxpayers could have seen an increase of four cents in property taxes.
Another option would be to spend the county’s fund balance, which Monroe said isn’t wise.
“If all of a sudden we spent our savings account, if opportunities come up or if an emergency pops up, we don’t have that budget to get us through,” he added.
Because of auditing issues the county is working on, it will not be approved for any loans.
Lula Jackson, the DSS director, was not expecting the building project to be stopped.
“We were stunned, devastated and very disappointed by the commissioners halting the new DSS building project,” Jackson said. “We have designed what would have been a much needed DSS facility for the county, DSS staff, clients and all county citizens.”
Jackson said they have updated the commissioners on 10 occasions in the past 20 months, and every recommendation requiring a vote passed unanimously.
With the commissioners approval, Moseley Architects was hired to assist the county with design, engineering and construction administration services. In January, commissioners approved the finished design, site plan and rendering by unanimous votes.
Jackson said DSS was working with Randolph and Sons, of Pineville, as a general contractor in a value engineering process making the project affordable to the county. She said the process was successfully completed.
DSS staff offices are in an old A&P grocery store that was built in 1950. The county acquired the building and renovated it for DSS in 1985-86.
Jackson said that part of the staff have offices in the Belk Building.
She said the building is small, antiquated and has heating and air conditioning issues. It also has water leaks and mold. Jackson said employees have complained of health problems.
“We hope and pray that the commissioners will reconsider their decision, so that we can proceed with the construction phase of our new DSS building,” she said.
Anson Middle School and Department of Social Services staff attend the March 5 meeting for updates on building projects.