On a 5-1 vote Wednesday evening, Halifax County commissioners shot down a proposal to appropriate architectural fees for a new 911 center which would also serve as a backup for Franklin and Warren counties.
The vote means the county will have to return a grant of slightly more than $4 million to the state 911 Board slated to go toward the project.
The decision to reject appropriating $377,891 in architectural fees comes as commissioners face building a new jail and addressing the future funding for either remodeling or building a new Weldon High School.
While Franklin and Warren counties have backed the 911 center and have agreed to fund equipment costs, neither have agreed to contribute to the construction of the facility. “I have a problem with our county being the only county with skin in the game,” Commissioner Linda Brewer said. “The financing is all on Halifax County. That’s a big issue.”
While Brewer said she thought the project was a great idea, she also said, “We have a lot of things coming we have no choice (but to fund), the sheriff’s office (jail project) and a school. That’s where I’m sitting.”
Commissioner Patrick Qualls said, “I believe in the concept 100 percent. The timing is wrong.”
Commissioners during the meeting were slow to put a motion on the table.
County Attorney Glynn Rollins advised the board “we need action.”
Commissioner Rives Manning put a motion on the floor to approve the allocation so it could be discussed. Marcelle Smith cast the second and when it came down to a vote on the matter, he was the only commissioner in favor of it.
Smith, however, still had concerns on the matter. “My biggest concern is finding funding for the project. I know we have a lot of work to do to figure out how to pay for this.”
Fund balance concerns were also brought up during discussion. “We don’t have money in the fund balance to take up the jail. We’re looking at obligation bonds for the jail,” Rollins said.
In the months following the acceptance of the state grant, 911 Center Director Heather Joyner told the board during the meeting she and other officials have been looking for additional resources.
There have been discussions with Dominion about the possibility of up to $1 million. “It could be more. It could be less. We are in discussions to reduce the county’s cost,” Joyner said.
Deputy County Manager Dia Denton said there have been discussions with federal and state lawmakers about options. “This year’s budget was not the best option,” she said. “We have had conversations with Dominion.”
The current 911 center has been in operation since 1996 and employees work out of a basement in the historic courthouse in Halifax.
Emergency services officials have said there is not enough space in the current location for expansion.
While the 911 center has modern equipment and a new telephone system installed, the state 911 board is looking to fund projects which regionalize services, which help increase the chances for funding, officials have said.