York County Council likely to defer bond referendum

The York County Council will likely defer action Monday on asking residents whether to borrow $60 million for building projects.

The council wanted to hold a referendum in November for a new county government center in York, an east judicial center near Rock Hill – possibly in the Riverwalk area – and improvements to the Moss Justice Center in York.

Council members, Sheriff Bruce Bryant, 16th Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett, Clerk of Court David Hamilton and County Manager Bill Shanahan have said changes are needed because some county buildings are too old and too costly to operate, county services are spread out over more than 50 locations, and some offices are crowded, especially the judicial and sheriff’s offices.

Chairman Britt Blackwell and councilmen Michael Johnson and Chad Williams met Friday, agreeing that there is too little time and not enough specifics yet to put a referendum before residents in November.

Another factor in delaying a referendum was the reaction to the possibility of an eastern York County judicial center in Riverwalk. Residents opposed the idea because plans included up to 60 jail cells. Blackwell said their opposition, and the fact Rock Hill officials pulled their support for the project, have forced the county to delay action.

The need for the eastern judicial center, he stressed, has not gone away. The challenge is finding a new location everyone can agree on. Bryant has said he wants a location on the eastern side of the county because 75 percent of his department’s arrests are made in Rock Hill, Fort Mill and Tega Cay.

Blackwell said the county is 15 years behind in building construction and improvements.

A team of consultants this week presented its study of York County’s present and future facility needs. Blackwell said he has been asking for the consultants report for almost a year and was disappointed in Wednesday’s presentation.

Blackwell, Johnson and Williams had questions about the study Friday but none of the consultants could attend the meeting.

The consultants estimate the cost of a new county office building at $23 million, additional courtrooms, more security and more parking at Moss Justice Center at $33 million, and an eastern judicial center at $28 million.

The costs will change depending on the final plans for the projects. Blackwell has said he wants to build more space than needed because the county’s population continues to grow. Johnson said he also supports building “shell” space, but said other areas, such as a proposed security checkpoint for Moss, could be downsized.

Blackwell, Johnson and Williams also discussed the need for finding a “champion” to advocate for the projects, as well as raise funds for a marketing campaign for the referendum. County staff can provide information, but can’t promote the referendum.

Typically, civic activists lead referendum efforts.

In 2006, voters rejected by a 2-to-1 margin buying bonds to build or improve the county jail, court facilities, customer service centers, a recycling center and cultural venues.

Council members have said the county cannot afford to have a similar outcome this time.