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Hempstead County Unanimously Approves Moving Forward To Purchase Bank Building

By Staff, 01/27/17 6:45 AM

HOPE – After a discussion-filled specially called Quorum Court meeting Thursday night, the Court finally came to an agreement to enter in to a non-binding letter of intent to continue negotiations on the purchase of the Farmers Bank building as a replacement to the existing Courthouse. The letter has the specific time period of ninety days.

A standing-room only crowd filled the large courtroom, prompting Judge Haskell Morse to comment that he wished there was always such interest in county business.

Prior to addressing the Courthouse concerns, Judge Morse welcomed Cherry Stewart, the new Justice of the Peace who was appointed by the Governor to take seat to an unfilled position.

The largest discussion was over the estimates for the three viable options for a remedy for the rapidly deteriorating Courthouse. The option of building a new Courthouse with approximately 36,000 square feet and located behind the Hempstead County Detention Facility had an estimated total cost of $8,5 million. That sum would include $7.2 million for actual construction, $300K for demolition of the existing Courthouse, $300K for furniture, $170K for 70 parking spaces, $430K for Architectural/Engineering services and $150K for A/V Equipment, telephone and PA systems.

The option of renovating the existing Courthouse had an estimated price tag of $4.6 million for the 33,000 square feet.

To purchase the Farmers Bank building showed an estimated cost of $1.5 million, with an additional $1.7 million needed for renovation, bring its price tag to $3.2 million for 36,000 square feet.

Judge Randy Wright was the first speaker to address the Court speaking about the utilization of video appearances by offenders, a system that is being used statewide, effectively cutting down on physical appearances in court and thereby reducing transporting.

Hempstead County Sheriff James Singleton stated that the video appearance system currently being used could be and has been approved for expansion through the Arkansas Department of Corrections.

Judge Morse than spoke of the contrasts between the upkeep of the existing Courthouse and that of the Farmers building. He noted that both amounts are basically the same and that Farmers was intending to buid a new roof on the 16-year old building. Electric costs show to be higher at Farmers, but Judge Morse noted that savings would come to the county by moving the Prosecuting Attorneys Office as well as the office of Judge Randy Wright to the new facility. The rent alone on the Prosecuting Attorneys office is $1,300.00/month, with utilities, of course, added on to that.

Architect Wayne Trull of Trull – Hollensworth, Architects of Magnolia next addressed the crowd, showing graphics of proposed improvements to the Bank that would not only facilitate the county offices, courtrooms, storage vaults and give convenience and comfortable working conditions to our county employees. ┬áTrull then fielded a few questions on bathroom size and fire escapes as well as to what could be done with the bank’s drive-through areas. It’s being considered to keep one drove-through drawer station for paying taxes.

Next to speak was County Election Commissioner Sharon Wright. Ms. Wright stated that the county is expecting new election equipment and this equipment will require storage in a safe, secure and climate controlled area, which the existing Courthouse has none of.

Assessor Kim Smith, Treasurer Judy Flowers and Circuit Court Clerk Gail Wolfenbarger each spoke about their needs for file storage as required by law.

There was, of course, discussion that some felt that the county could not afford to buy and renovate the bank. At this time, several members of the audience, from business owners to private citizens, spoke, mostly saying that the county couldn’t afford NOT to buy the bank building. Comments were also made noting that the downtown area would enjoy an economic ‘shot in the arm’ by the relocation.

As the meeting wound down, JP Jessie Henry moved that the county enter in to the non-binding letter of intent to continue negotiations with the bank for a ninety-day period. The motion was seconded and was passed unanimously. During this ninety-day period, the financial issues will be further scrutinized but at least we will have a viable plan to work towards.

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