Iredell County Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Joseph Crosswhite told county commissioners on Friday that the local court system is desperate for more courtrooms and will soon need office space for the new Public Defender’s Office.

Judge Crosswhite met with the board and county administrators at the Iredell County Cooperative Extension Office. During the daylong meeting, commissioners discussed major capital projects looming on the horizon and discussed plans to pay for several multi-million dollar facilities.

“We are reaching an absolute critical level,” Crosswhite said. “We are not going to be able to function like this.”

Because the county’s aging courthouse only has two courtrooms that can accommodate a jury trial, court officials are severely limited in how many cases can be scheduled for trial during a given week.

Nearby counties with more courtroom space have almost three times as many criminal court sessions each year as Iredell County, he said.

That means individuals facing serious charges remain free on bond while awaiting trial or are locked up at local taxpayers’ expense. A review of Iredell County Detention Center records showed that 34 individuals have been jailed while awaiting trial for more than 600 days. Six inmates have been held for more than three years while awaiting trial.

Crosswhite said the establishment of a new local Public Defender’s Office by the N.C. General Assembly could help cases move faster, but the county will have to find office space for the staff. Plans call for the office to be fully staffed by next summer.

The N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts would provide additional judges if the county had more courtroom space, Crosswhite said.

County commissioners have been discussing the need for a new courthouse, but have not begun planning or discussed how to pay for it. During the retreat, they discussed lobbying local lawmakers for state funds to help pay for the project.

“If we could get one (of our representatives) to be speaker of the House, we could get three courthouses,” Commissioner Scottie Brown said.

The 2023-2024 State Budget included $40 million for a new courthouse in Cleveland County, which House Speaker Tim Moore represents.

I-SS Construction Update

Commissioners learned that Iredell-Statesville Schools officials will begin accepting bids for the new Weathers Creek High School in January.

Vice Chair Bert Connolly expressed his continuing frustration about the lack of progress on this project. Voters approved $80 million for the new high school in a 2020 bond referendum.

The delay, he said, will cost taxpayers millions of additional dollars due to increased construction costs and rising interest rates.

“This is the people’s money. This has cost the taxpayers substantial money,” Connolly said. “It’s ridiculous. It’s damn ridiculous.”

The board has committed $120 million for the project, including $80 million approved by voters in the 2020 school bond and $40 million, which would be borrowed.

Commissioners plan to pay for a new I-SS elementary school, which is currently in the design stage, by socking away money over the next three or four years. The board agreed to set aside $10 million in the current budget.

County Manager Beth Mull said that was the best way to pay for the new school, which will be in the southern end of the county. In the current environment, she doubted that voters would approve a school bond for Iredell-Statesville Schools.

Iredell County Fairgrounds

Commissioners got a first look at a consultant’s master draft plan for redeveloped Iredell County Fairgrounds.

The plan includes construction of a 25,000-square-foot arena, two exhibit halls, three barns, an agricultural center and a hotel.

The price tag: $57.6 million.

The county has received $10 million in state funding for the project and has set aside another $6 million.

Commissioners discussed the possibility of going ahead with phase I, which would include construction of the arena and one exhibit hall, which would cost about $16 million.

“If we don’t do something with the first $10 million, we’re not going to get any more” from the state, Brown said. “We’ve got to do something.”

But the vice chair said he is not convinced the current location in Troutman is the best site for the fairgrounds.

“I think we need to slam the brakes on this until we find a better location,” Connolly said.

New Fire Stations

The county manager also updated commissioners on the plan to construct new fire stations in the Monticello, Central and West Iredell fire districts.

Funding for those projects would be paid for by revenues generated by the all-county fire tax. Mull said plans call for the Monticello station to be built in 2025, Central in 2027 and West Iredell in 2029.

These stations will be smaller than the recent stations built in the Cool Springs and Trinity districts, which cost $3.5 million.

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