As the debate continues over a new courthouse for Santa Rosa County, one county commissioner is weighing in with his own ideas about location, location, location.
You’ve no doubt heard this before: when the courthouse opened in Milton, Babe Ruth was hitting homeruns and “The Jazz Singer,” with Al Jolson and not Neil Diamond, was in the theaters.
“Personally, I like this site unless somebody can bring a better site,” said Commissioner Sam Parker, who’s proposing a new judicial center be built on up to 15 acres of land on the south side of Sterling Way east of Bell Lane and west of Mulat Road. The cost: free.
“I approached the landowner and asked him to donate the land,” Parker said. “Several months of thought and talk evolved. He wanted to do it as a chance to give back to the community that’s been good to him and his business.”
Parker identifies the landowner as Edwin Henry, the owner and operator of Henry Company Homes. Henry is also on a new committee, which will oversee how $35 million in Local Option Sales Tax proceeds are spent.
Parker says the advantages of the property would be hard to beat.
“It’s high and dry, it’s not in the flood plain, it’s not in any sort of area that would cause undue distress on any of the neighbors,” said Parker. From a construction standpoint, I don’t see how we could get much better property as far as to be able to lower the cost of building the facility there.”
But wait, there’s more. A new courthouse at that location, says Parker, would be within a two and a half mile range of Highway 90 and Avalon Boulevard, meaning better access from residents in the southern half of the county.
But before the shovels can be brought out for the groundbreaking, there’s the matter of how to pay for a new courthouse. Voters rejected a half-penny sales tax last year to raise the money.
“Until we make a different decision we would still have the half-cent sales tax as a primary option for a funding mechanism,” said Santa Rosa County Administrator Tony Gomillion.
He adds there’s no courthouse plan as yet, and the Commission, while keeping other potential funding plans on the table, will not act until they get a plan in place. But Gomillion is optimistic that things will work out, because of one common thread shared by most Santa Rosa Countians.
But he cautions it will take time.
“I don’t believe there’s any argument that we’re in need of a new judicial facility,” Gomillion said. “We’re hopeful that over this next year to 18 months, we can find a solution that would be a good solution that people can rally around.”
Commissioner Sam Parker is scheduled to present the land proposal to the full Santa Rosa County Commission on Monday morning. If three of the five commissioners agree with it, the board can put forward a motion to develop a site plan for the county to study.