Florence County Council votes to approve new justice center - WMBFNews.com, Myrtle Beach/Florence SC, Weather

Florence County Council votes to approve new justice center

FLORENCE, SC (WMBF) - Florence County is getting a new $42 million judicial center.

"For public safety, there isn't any other answer but to do what you have to do," said James Schofield, vice chairman for county council.

Florence County Council passed the ordinance to fund the justice center 7-2 with William Mumford voting yes by proxy. Mitchell Kirby and Willard Dorriety voted against the ordinance.

"This kind of reminds me of when the civic center was built," said Kirby, councilman for District 4 and chaplain-secretary for council. "It was kind of rushed through. The public didn't have the information. When they got the information, it was after the fact."

Thursday morning's council meeting was the third and final reading of the ordinance, but the first opportunity for public comment because the second reading was done during a budget workshop. The first reading was April 16.

Several community members expressed their approval or concerns for the plans Thursday.

"$42 million for our population is a big bill," Thomas Sheehy said. "You better make sure you're not overbuilding."

The construction itself is slated to cost $32 million and the price for outfitting the building with items such as furniture and technology is estimated at $10 million, Schofield said. He also said those are estimates that could decrease based on what exactly the county decides to include in the new building.

He said the process to approve the new justice center needed to move quickly.

"The safety issue and the need is so great, the opportunity to borrow money at today's interest rate on the bonds is unheard of," Schofield said.

The building will be funded through a millage increase that will start at one mill and could reach a maximum of three mills. That will go into effect in 2018. Schofield said based on increases of population and cost of living, county council has been conservative with millage increases.

He also said the public can eventually vote on a capital sales tax that could take over the funding for the bond.

"They have the opportunity to shift the cost of that judicial facility to people who don't live in Florence County by 40%," he said.

The current courthouse building will still be utilized as office space. The building will need renovations, but those leasing the building could cover that cost.

Construction on the new justice center, which will be right across Irby Street from the county complex, could begin as early as the beginning of 2016, Schofield said.

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